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AfCFTA – The Game Changer in Africa’s Pharma Sector

Accelerating Africa’s industrial development is very important for reconfiguring its supply chains, establishing regional value chains and boosting the manufacturing of essential value-added products. These are some of the core issues that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement – AfCFTA was designed to resolve to meet the agreement’s target of boosting Africa’s intra-trade numbers by 50% by 2030.

With the target date only nine years away today, the current political and socio-economic realities have led experts to undermine the reliability of the target and intoned that pursuing it may not significantly impact the continent and its peoples.

The COVID-19 pandemic, while still brutal in its march across the globe, may provide Africa the much-needed boost for self-development. In this stance, African governments need to stimulate their nations’ economies to accelerate recovery leveraging the trade tools provided for by to help them achieve this across industries and sectors, one of such key sectors being healthcare.  Africa, with its high disease burden (the highest in the world), imports over 90% of its drugs, medical equipment and health ancillaries. Stakeholders in the public and private sectors may have been complacent with the situation in the pre-pandemic period, but today, such a situation is clearly to the utmost detriment of the continent.

Factually established today is that Africa does not possess the capacity to either produce the necessary COVID-19 vaccine that will allow the continent to return to a normal semblance of life.  This is layered on the unfortunateness that neither can Africa participate in the value chain for the vaccine from production to distribution. In fact, none of the COVID-19 vaccine variants in use in Africa today were produced using genomes from Africans.  This sadistic reality denotes the continent’s level of participation in drugs research, development and production and this must change!

Leveraging the benefits of a single market – 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of USD2.5 trillion incorporating 54 territories, Africa’s healthcare sector can become an investor’s dream with the possibility of doing business on a single set of trade and investment rules, achieve economies of scale and overcome the challenges of market fragmentation.

Following the partnership between the African Business Coalition for Health (ABCHealth) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UN ECA) an agency of the United Nations, the determination to make Africa a powerhouse in the local manufacture of drugs and medical equipment is lit on. Critical multi-stakeholders across the globe are being brought to the table to dialogue and develop a framework that will allow the continent to achieve sustainable sufficiency that will result in Africans having more reliable, dependable and improved access to affordable medicines clinically researched and tested using African genetic composition. This is crucial as the world faces a third wave of the COVID-19 and even more so if Africa will be prepared for the next health crisis.

Building local production capacity requires long-term commitment from Africa’s public and private sectors. These commitments should be aimed at fostering the necessary ecosystem that will deliver key goals including the standardization of pharma regulations in African countries; market regulations to facilitate cross border transactions, defined route to market for pharma products; matching financial investments; the prioritization of sector workforce professionalism and welfare; consumer education and; engendering the critical space for clinical research to ensure that Africans’ genetic composition are incorporated into clinical trials to determine the adequacy of the drugs they consume.

While the issue of Africa achieving local drug, production is high on the agenda of high-income country governments, it remains the responsibility of Africans to take ownership, working together to develop and strengthen pharmaceutical production on the continent and driving this important course to fruition.

Now, more than ever, governments and businesses in Africa must seize the opportunity and push investments that will guarantee the development of the continent’s healthcare sector and greater autonomy over the supply of vital health commodities that its population needs.

 

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