Feature story

Improving access to quality and affordable drugs in Africa: The role of the International Conference on Local Pharmaceutical Production in Africa and the launch of the Southern African Generic Medicines Association

06 April 2011

Credit: UNAIDS

In developing countries one of the major challenges for universal access to treatment is access to affordable commodities. Two events in Cape Town are giving an opportunity for discussion, reflection and developing a strategy for improving access to quality and affordable drugs in Africa.

The International Conference on local pharmaceutical production in Africa is taking place 4-6 April 2011. Bringing together politicians, the pharmaceutical industry and development partners it’s an opportunity for exchange and collaboration—which is essential for promoting local pharmaceutical production. Under discussion are a wide range of issues including access to essential medicines, intellectual property rights, technology transfer as well as the use of TRIPS-flexibilities and the harmonization of drug regulation.

Representatives from the regional intergovernmental organizations the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community are being joined by representatives from the Indian pharmaceutical industry, as well as UNDP and WHO. They were welcomed by Stefano Bologna, UNIDO Representative; Mr Dieter Haller, German Ambassador to Pretoria; and Mr Olajide, from the African Union Commission. Participants also include Mr Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, and Ms Ellen T’Hoen executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool.

Building regulatory capacity is also critical to facilitate timely access to quality, safe and efficacious medicines

Dr Paul De Lay, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme

In his keynote address at the opening, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme Paul De Lay said that local production of high-quality pharmaceuticals in Africa is an opportunity to sustain the AIDS response over the longer term and put products nearer to those who need them.

“But it requires a strong regulatory environment that can attract private sector investments for the manufacture of medicines within Africa. Domestic production could flourish, just as we have seen in Asia and Latin America,” he said.

“Building regulatory capacity is also critical to facilitate timely access to quality, safe and efficacious medicines,” Dr De Lay added.

Southern African Generic Medicines Association launched

The conference was preceded on 4 April by the public launch of the Southern African Generic Medicines Association (SAGMA). This non-profit association hopes to promote collaboration within the pharmaceutical sector in order to achieve self-sufficiency and reliability in the local production and provision of affordable, efficacious, quality generic medicines in the Southern Africa Development Community.

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme Paul De Lay gave one of the keynote speeches at the launch. He spoke of the power of a “pan-African vision and regulatory system” emerging, which would allow for fewer delays in authorisation of medicines, better quality control, stronger support to innovation and a more sustainable response to HIV.

“SAGMA has an essential role to play in supporting the development of a pharmaceutical regulatory plan for Africa that will support universal access to treatment,” said Dr De Lay.

Dr De Lay went on to describe how SAGMA could support countries with “implementation of TRIPS, innovative licensing schemes and the Medicines Patent Pool to keep prices going down and ensure that new generations of good quality drugs become available.”

Ms Joy Phumaphi the Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) in Botswana, also gave a keynote address. ALMA is an alliance of African Heads of State and Government working to end malaria-related deaths. It was founded by the leaders in order to use their individual and collective power across country and regional borders.

Two panel discussions were also held to share experiences about pharmaceutical manufacturing in southern Africa. Speakers included representatives from private sector pharmaceutical companies.