Africa Making Moves to Manufacture Its Own Medicines

Addis Ababa — The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has launched a request for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from African pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce 107 maternal-child health (MCH) and essential health products to help increase access to affordable and reliable supplies of quality-assured medicines in the era of rising government debts accelerated by the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.

The EOI is a step towards the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)-anchored Pharma Initiative, a pilot project that seeks to develop the capacity of African countries to ease the burden on their health systems through localized production of medicines, pooled procurement, and a harmonized regulatory and quality framework. According to ECA estimates, Africa imports about 94% of its pharmaceutical and medicinal needs from outside the continent at an annual cost of $16 billion.

Commissioned in November 2019 by ECA in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), IGAD, WHO, UNAIDS and other relevant United Nations (UN) agencies, the pharma initiative is a game changer in developing a scalable and sustainable pharmaceutical framework of action. It leverages on the establishment of the African Medicines Agency (AMA) and AfCFTA which brings on board a single harmonized market of 1.3 billion people, a gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion, across 55 member states of the Africa Union (AU).

The combined effort is expected to increase bargaining power through economies of scale while also centralizing quality assurance, a necessary feature as the continent accounts for 42% of the fake medicines seized by WHO annually.

“The EOI represents a significant milestone towards addressing persistent unmet needs and access to reproductive health products across Africa and the necessity and efficacy of investment in initiatives that address women’s health as a key component of inclusive and sustainable economic development,” said ECA Executive Secretary, Dr Vera Songwe.

The EOI is one of the several recommended regional harmonization efforts envisioned by the Head of States of the African Union (AU) for “a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.” Sustainable development depends on healthy workers and the health of the society depends on the supply of quality-assured and affordable medicines.

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