How Viable is Vaccine Manufacturing in Uganda/Africa?
Vaccine manufacturing is essential worldwide, but it is particularly crucial for Africa. This continent is more vulnerable to disease burdens and also lags behind other continents regarding access to vaccines.
Countries across Africa, a continent which struggled to gain equal access to vaccines and that imports the majority of its packaged medicines from abroad, know all too well the importance of a strong domestic pharmaceutical industry and trade.
Total demand for packaged medicines in Africa is worth around $18 billion annually, of which 61% is imported and 36% is locally produced and not traded. Just 3% of demand is met by intra-African trade.
Now, under the newly active African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, Africa’s pharmaceutical and medicine trade is about to receive a significant boost — one fueled by intra-African trade, alleviating some of African states’ reliance on outside economies.
According to the AfCFTA Private Sector Strategy, cited in WEF’s report, 40% of the disease burden on the continent is due to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory diseases, all of which are typically treated by packaged medicines. Any growth in the packaged medicines industry on the continent will not only be good for business — it will save lives.
There are currently around 600 manufacturers of packaged medicines on the continent, and these are highly concentrated in eight countries (80%), with North Africa leading the way. Only four countries have more than 50 manufacturers, while 22 countries have none.
While African manufacturers should look wider than Africa, it gives us a starting point being in Africa. It’s a very good footing because the volumes are in Africa. The birth rates, which is what we follow in terms of tracking demand for children’s vaccines, are here. And in 2050, Africa is going to have the single biggest population.
Some of the critical issues affecting vaccine production in the continent, include innovative financing, enabling regulatory environment, product development partnerships, infrastructural developments as well as building of technical capacity and technology transfer capabilities.
Regulatory challenges that have long hindered the growth of the pharmaceutical industry in Africa.
According to Amnesty International, less than 8% of African people are fully vaccinated due to supply deficiencies in vaccines. Africa, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, had a total supply of only 134.5 million, while the United States, with a population of about 332 million, had over 375 million vaccine supplies. This disparity exposes Africa’s challenges regarding access to the needed vaccines to protect people against infectious diseases.
The call for Africa to become self-sufficient in vaccines and other drugs, though long-standing, is urgent now more than ever before. The rush by most countries to hoard drugs and other medical products during pandemics such as COVID-19 has exposed the continent’s vulnerability to the caprices of global medical supply systems.
Although several frameworks, such as the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa, have been developed to curb over-reliance on imports by promoting local pharmaceutics, their effects have been largely limited. Africa still imports over 90% of her drugs and vaccines. The COVID-19 experience, while tragic, has the potential to be the wakeup call for vaccine independence.
The issue of timely access to vaccines, mostly during pandemics, directly impacts the lives and livelihoods of people in the vulnerable economies. Thus, it is expedient to understand if the perceived timely access to vaccines due to localisation of production would catalyse public support for African-made vaccines.