Africa seeks to manufacture own medicines

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 By Matabeleland North Correspondent

MOST African countries import between 80 and 90% of medicines making them prone to fake drugs that are allegedly dumped on the continent from manufacturers, it has been revealed.

There are concerns that some of the medicines make their way into Africa about five or 10 years after their introduction into the market, thereby exposing Africans health to hazards.

Health experts from the continent are gathered in Victoria Falls to deliberate on measures that can be taken to control influx of counterfeit drugs, with establishment of an African Medicines Agency the major route to go, according to discussions here.

Participants at the meeting concurred that there is need for harmonisation of an African regulatory framework with regards to medicines so that member states can be able to manufacture their own drugs.

Health and Child Care Minister, Obadiah Moyo who was guest of honour at the 4th Biennial Scientific Conference on Medical Products Regulation in Africa (SCoMRA IV) said Zimbabwe imports 80% of its medicines from India, with the remainder coming from other countries such as Cuba and South Africa.

He said Zimbabwe is inviting private players to come and invest in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals so as to cushion the sector and ensure access to quality affordable healthcare.

“Registration of players has been taking long and we are saying let’s reduce that period as we invite manufacturers of pharmaceutical products to come and register in the country. Eighty percent of our medicines are manufactured and imported from India which is a huge number.

“It’s our intention to empower all our pharmaceuticals here to do manufacturing of drugs,” said Moyo.

He said lack of locally produced goods puts the whole continent at risk as it faces high rates of diseases yet the health sector is under-resourced.

“We are also threatened by substandard medicines hence it is important to build capacity for medicine regulation in Africa to counter these challenges. We need to harmonise our regulations so we are able to independently manufacture our own drugs,” highlighted Moyo.

However, of the 55 African countries, less than 10 have committed to the formation of the African Medicines Agency, casting doubt on whether the body will be successfully established.

Moyo said Zimbabwe is committed to the agency. Professor Kelly Chibale who of the University of Cape Town said the African population is neglected hence the need for political will to be able to revamp the health sector.

About 300 health experts are attending the two-day SCoMRA IV conference which started Monday and ends Tuesday.

It is being held under the theme: “A decade of regulatory harmonisation in Africa: Where are we? Where do we go from here?”