KIGALI, January 25 (IPS) – A few months after German biotech company BioNTech announced the establishment of the first local vaccine factory in Rwanda, experts believe the successful rollout Publicizing such initiatives across the continent will require countries to absorb know-how while encouraging potential industrial partners in the pharmaceutical industry.
Experts emphasize the need to prioritize technology transfer to reform Africa’s pharmaceutical industry with a primary focus on vaccine production capacity and building quality healthcare infrastructure.
This is because, while pharmaceutical products are manufactured in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Egypt, the latest estimates of World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the continent now imports more than 80% of pharmaceuticals and medical consumables.
In the recent forum in Kigali, experts discussed in detail some of the current challenges and opportunities to boost the health prospects of a continent battered for decades by the burden of some diseases and pandemics such as COVID-19, with very limited production capacity. its drugs and vaccines.
Forum participants, mainly focused on running the first Africa Pharmaceutical Technology Fund, discussed how the African Union achieved its goal of having 60% of the vaccines needed on the continent by 2020. 2040.
While the continent imports more than 70% of all the drugs it needs, costing $14 billion annually, Dr Yvan Butera, Rwanda’s Minister of Health, stressed the need to mobilize resources additional financing for the African countries that need them most to buy vaccines
“The new initiative is a solution as most countries still have difficulty in receiving goods on time,” a senior Rwandan Government official said at the forum.
As current efforts to expand production of essential pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, in developing countries, particularly in Africa, experts say efforts are needed. cooperate to promote technology transfer. According to official estimates, Africa imports more than 70% of all necessary medicines, costing $14 billion a year.
Commenting on the situation, Professor Padmashree Gehi Sampath, Special Advisor to the President for Pharmaceuticals and Health, African Development Bank and Director of Global Outreach Operations, Harvard University, told delegates that technology transfer is crucial and that the new initiative will help African countries consider what their technology needs are. .
“Most pharmaceutical companies in Africa are using different types of technology (…), it is important to enhance their capabilities, which are hampered by the protection of intellectual property rights. and patents on technology, know-how, manufacturing processes and trade secrets.” a senior bank official told IPS.
However, Africa’s public health challenges are well known; Some experts believe that increasing access to these technologies for pharmaceutical companies is crucial to addressing many of the challenges facing the continent’s pharmaceutical industry.
According to Dr. Hanan Balkhy, Deputy Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), the continent faces many challenges before it can produce medicines.
“Africa suffers from repeated occurrences of preventable diseases and epidemics, and the vast majority of drugs and vaccines to treat or prevent these diseases are available,” Balkhy told delegates. imported from outside the continent”.
When fully established, the Africa Pharmaceutical Technology Fund, which the bank has approved, will have a team of world-class experts in pharmaceutical innovation and development, intellectual property rights and medical policy. economic.
The Fund also has a mission to be a transparent intermediary promoting and brokering the interests of the African pharmaceutical industry with global pharmaceutical companies and other southern companies to share technologies, know-how and Patented process protected by IP.
Dr Precious Matsoso, co-chair of WHO’s international negotiating body for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response, stressed the importance of ensuring Africa’s health system is resilient.
“The bank’s establishment of the Africa Pharmaceutical Technology Fund is an important milestone in addressing the barriers we are facing, such as health equity,” she said.
Although the foundation was established under the auspices of the African Development Bank, it will operate independently and raise funds from various stakeholders, including governments, development financial institutions and charity organization.
Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Initiatives (CEPI)told delegates that the fund was initiated in a timely manner because Africa needed to learn from the pandemic, which could be an important step towards building the resilience of the health system.
“These innovative healthcare solutions will save lives on this continent,” he said.
To date, Rwanda has been selected to host the Africa Pharmaceutical Technology Fund. As a mutual interest entity, the fund will have its own governance and operating structure. It will also promote and broker alliances between foreign and African pharmaceutical companies.
However, some experts also emphasized the need to prioritize the African patent pharmaceutical industry for the successful implementation of the new initiative.
Professor Carlos Correa, Executive Director, South Center, Genevapointed out that it is important for the region to have its own framework.
“Production capacity is there, but technological capacity is critical to developing vaccines for Africa (…),” he said. Timely technology transfer is also important.”
During the forum, several panelists also emphasized the need to establish partnerships between African pharmaceutical companies and their counterparts from other continents, such as Europe. .
According to Brigit Pickel, General Manager for Africa at German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, this partnership is important for vaccine production. It applies to the manufacture and supply of other pharmaceutical products.
“We recognize the importance of promoting local pharmaceutical products in the value chain in Africa,” she said.
In addition to technology transfer, Professor Fredrick Abbott, Professor Edward Ball Eminent Scholar, Florida State University, USA, points out that this initiative cannot work without sustainable funding.
“Countries need to develop domestic resources as funding is an important step to ensure the continuity of promising clinical drug and vaccine development programmes,” Abbott told IPS. .
Report of the UN IPS Office
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