Revitalizing Africa’s pharmaceutical industry

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Africa’s pharmaceutical industry has great potential for boosting economic growth and creating jobs. Given current sustained and rapid economic growth, the African pharmaceutical industry, like that of other emerging markets, is expected to grow tremendously in the coming years. “Pharmerging markets” across the world show the potential for rapid growth in the industry. In the past five years China’s pharmaceutical industry grew 20%, Russia’s 14%, India’s 11% and Brazil’s 7%.

During the past decade the African continent has been home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, creating a large window of opportunity for the development of the pharmaceutical sector. The growing numbers of Africans with significant disposable income and spending power, the strong demographic dynamics, including fast urbanization, steady economic growth in most parts of the continent, and improved infrastructure in both rural and urban areas are all potential drivers of Africa’s pharmaceutical boom. Investments in the pharmaceutical sector are investments in the health sector with the greatest potential both in terms of financial viability and individual deal size. Job creation prospects are also immense all along the pharmaceutical value chain.

Although it is relatively small in global terms (worth US $23.1 billion in 2011, or less than 2% of the global market), Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is the fastest growing in the world and is driven by a small number of countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, some Eastern African countries and North Africa. Local production remains weak and limited: local manufacturers produce 25 to 30% of pharmaceuticals and less than 10% of medical supplies that are on the African market. The pharmaceutical industry is mostly composed of small, privately owned companies that serve their national markets, and there are few large manufacturers (Aspen in South Africa is in the top 10 largest generic manufacturers in the world) as well as public sector manufacturers.

Africa bears the greatest burden of disease in the world, but in most cases depends on externally developed and procured drugs, vaccines, medical devices and diagnostics to support the health of its people, which significantly affects health expenditures and household incomes. The need for drugs is tremendous: 75% of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases, 90% of the deaths from malaria and the majority of tuberculosis cases are all in Africa. In addition, the rise of non-communicable diseases, coupled with the burden of communicable ones and emergent infections, require new medical services and new treatments.

There is clear momentum in Africa for developing the pharmaceutical industry. African Heads of State stressed the potential for local production and technology transfer in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa. Developing the pharmaceutical industry on the continent would contribute to removing financial barriers to medicines and improving access to essential medicines. Still, the conditions for the private sector to bloom have not been met.

The African Development Bank recognizes that now is a critical time for African countries to develop their pharmaceutical sectors. The Bank is thus developing a comprehensive plan to support its regional member countries through a range of activities, including:

  • A regional operation to vitalize Africa’s pharmaceutical sector to support sustained access to affordable and quality medicines, job creation and economic development in Sub-Saharan countries;
  • Setting up a dialogue platform between public and private sectors to discuss the sector’s opportunities and challenges. The Africa Pharmaceutical Summit organized in Tunisia in September 2013 was the first attempt on the continent to bring together public sector and industry leaders, attracting high-level policy-makers including Ministers of Finance, Health, Industry and Trade to discuss Africa’s pharmaceutical sector potential as a growth pole.
  • Learning events such as a visit to India for African policy-makers and industrialists to discuss India’s progress in pharmaceutical policy, research, production and quality control;
  • South-South collaboration and capacity building programs, such as programs between the Republic of Korea and Africa on innovation and technology or learning exchange programs between Africa and Brazil;
  • Develop knowledge products on the pharmaceutical sector on the continent.