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African Countries to Manufacture Domestic Malaria Drugs

Chirau Mwakwere

Malaria costs African economies an estimated 12 billion US dollars annually in health expenditure and is a major cause of death in Africa, Kenya’s Minister for Trade, Chirau Makwere has said.

Africa is home to 800 million people who are at risk of malaria infection. 90 percent of malaria deaths worldwide occur in Africa annually. These statistics imply that 800,000 African lives are lost each year.

Chirau who was speeking during the forum on consultation on African-based manufacture of pharmaceuticals and other malaria commodities said, “Malaria is a major cause of poverty in our continent while poverty in turn contributes to the high malarial burden in Africa.”

It is for this reason that the African Heads of State and government at an African Union (AU) meeting in July 2009 committed to boosting the local manufacture of essential medicines and health commodities. The undertaking recognises the fact that local manufacturing will increase access and reduce the cost of medicines such as those for malaria.

The African Heads of State and government, who also are the members of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), convened this week at the Nairobi forum to discuss the pharmaceutical industry in Africa and the business economics of malaria control strategies.

Participants drawn from 15 countries in Africa and partners from America, Europe, China and Japan met to formulate concrete policies and strategies which will enable local production of essential malaria control and prevention commodities such as bed nets and medicines. These will reduce the cost of controlling malaria on the African continent but also create much needed jobs thus addressing poverty issues.

The minister said that African-based manufacturers face challenges ranging from high taxes and tariffs on malaria control commodities and raw materials, a high cost of undertaking regulatory processes which lead to WHO prequalification status, market uncertainties as well as competition from generic manufacturers in Asia, some of whose products are subsidized.

However, the World Trade Organisation rules especially those contained in the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) says, “Members agree that some licensing practices or conditions pertaining to intellectual property rights which restrain competition may have adverse effects on trade and may impede the transfer and dissemination of technology.”

These expressed needs call for transfer of technology and know-how. Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs), when produced in sufficiently large quantities, benefits from economies of scale, without which they will not be competitive in a global market. The converse of this is that increased imports of finished products increase the export of job and other opportunities in research.

The minister of trade underscored that there is an urgent need for safe, quality, effective and affordable medicines that are continuously available and accessible. In essence this requires manufacturing facilities to be located nearest to the point of need with a collaborative effort to harmonise regulatory, legal, fiscal, and other issues to maximise the opportunities for local manufacturers.

It has been demonstrated, the Minister said, in Kenya, in the advent of IT and mobile communication, that research and innovation has a direct impact on people’s lives. Similarly the nascent opportunities in the local manufacture of pharmaceuticals may be an answer away from innovative treatments for the disease burden in Africa.

Additionally, he pointed out that on the issues of taxes and tariffs charged on malaria commodities, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Guinea have been recognised for removal of taxes on malaria control commodities. “I urge all other African countries to follow suit since this disease is not a respecter of boundaries. Concerning delays in VAT refunds which face Kenyan manufacturers, I will follow up the matter with the relevant government ministries and departments,” he said.

Beth Mugo

Kenya’s Minister for Public Health and Sanitation, Beth Mugo said the time has come for the production of malaria control commodities in Africa for both the local and export markets. This will reduce costs and increase access to essential drugs such as those for malaria.

Minister Mugo said:

“We already have world class manufacturing facilities in sub-Saharan Africa, with the capacity to produce everything that we need to win the war against Malaria.”

“We have the market for these commodities right here in our beloved continent.All we require is to make our manufacturing facilities competitive enough to match those from other parts of the world that dominate the market.

“Whereas they have the capital to raise their facilities to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) status, African manufacturers need access to this market in order to generate a reasonable return on capital, provide much needed jobs and produce commodities that are suited to the local market which they understand much better than players from other parts of the world.”

She pointed out that Africa has manufacturing facilities with the capacity to produce all essential malaria control commodities like mosquito nets, ACT medicines, insecticides, spray pumps, rapid diagnostic test kits and other diagnostic equipment which meet the highest standards of quality, safety and effectiveness.

Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria (AMFm – a facility funded by the UN and UK) is there to provide subsidies to manufacturers of recommended medicines so that the retail price in the private sector is within reach of majority of the populations at the highest risk of malaria.

But, regrettably no African based manufacturer is benefiting from the subsidy mechanism. Mugo challenged the forum to look at the issue with a view to having African based manufacturers benefit from access to AMFm, and especially those who have already achieved GMP status for their plants.

Bringing more African manufacturers on board for these commodities will not only speed up access thus contributing to the universal targets, the minister for health and sanitation said “but will also prevent life threatening stock-outs that our countries occasionally experience during peak malaria transmission seasons.”

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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