A high-level meeting of policymakers, regulators and industry experts in the field of pharmaceuticals and trade opened in Addis Ababa, Thursday to discuss a bold path towards affordable pharmaceuticals through leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The Continent is home to 11% of the world’s population yet it carries 25% of the world’s burden of disease.
If implemented, pooling procurement of essential drugs and products and expanding local pharmaceutical production on the continent is seen as a critical pathway to the prosperity of African citizens, thereby achieving universal healthcare in Africa.
Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa Vera Songwe told the meeting that 50 % of all children who die before the age of 5 in the world are in Africa. “We cannot build a prosperous Africa if we have such a high mortality rate. The pharma initiative seeks to reduce costs and increase healthcare access.”
“The tragedy is that these diseases are treatable and most related deaths could be prevented with timely access to appropriate and affordable medicines and people with lifelong diseases can lead productive lives,” she said
The Forum’s co-convener, Seychelles Minister of Health, Jean Paul Adam stressed that universal health is the best way to achieve universal wealth and that attaining SDG3 and ensuring healthy lives, wellbeing and nourishment of citizens also contributes to boosting economies.
He reminded participants that African nations made a promise to seek collective prosperity through the establishment of the AfCFTA, a promise, he said, “which demands seeking opportunity with equity and fairness.” Given that health is a fundamental factor that underpins shared prosperity, countries should aim “to anchor economic growth through universal access to healthcare.”
Africa’s Small Island states have organized themselves around a pooled procurement initiative, which is showing signs of significant savings. “Seychelles often pay a premium for the procurement of medicines and health system equipment. Due to our small size, lack of economies of scale, minimal productive capacity and long distances to markets, our high GDP per capita hides the high cost per capita,” said the Minister.
Calling on African countries to embark on an ambitious approach to harness the comparative advantage and competitiveness of their pharmaceutical companies, he stressed that for even greater benefits, “Africa must widen the base for pooled procurement and make a difference, by moving together.”
The meeting discussed the role of African businesses in driving the growth in this sector as well as the need for financing instruments to facilitate pooled procurement. These include a strategic fund, levy and social bonds that can link up with financial markets.
Lia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s state minister for health shared the country’s efforts and gains made in improving its health system, which have resulted in plummeting rates of HIV, infectious diseases and maternal mortality due to a combination of political will and commitment and partnerships.
“The fight, however, is far from over; and this procurement pooling initiative is a strong foundation towards improving the Continent’s supply chain management and an uninterrupted supply of pharmaceutical drugs,” she said.
African Union Social Affairs Commissioner shared the regulatory mechanisms initiated under her office to support and govern the pharmaceutical sector, including collaboration with the WHO on the African Center for Disease Control and the African Medicine Agency (AMA), which she explained, “seeks to ensure the coordination and strengthening of continental initiatives to harmonise medical products regulation, provide guidance and technical support to improve access to quality, safe and efficacious medical products and health technologies on the continent.” She hailed the pooling initiative and expressed the AU’s commitment in this regard.
IGAD’s representative Antony Wesonga, discussed harmonization and collaboration on pharmaceutical standards in the region, stressing that the need to strengthen local manufacturing and capacity for compliance of standards.