Africa’s efforts to become self-reliant in the manufacture of vaccines received a shot in the arm after Aspen Pharmacare signed a deal with Serum Institute of India to manufacture, market, and distribute pneumococcal, rotavirus, polyvalent meningococcal and hexavalent vaccines in South Africa. The deal, which was announced on 31 August 2022, will allow South Africa to produce vaccines which protects children against illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis, rotavirus, tetanus, pertussis and hepatitis B.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought home the need for Africa to produce life-saving medicines and vaccines at home. Although home to only 16% of the world’s population Africa carries 25% of the global disease burden[AJ1] . At the height of the pandemic, many African countries struggled to access vaccines; to date, 643.5 million Covid-19 doses have been administered in Africa with 21.6% of the population fully vaccinated. Prior to the pandemic, only eight African countries Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, and South Africa – had the capacity to produce medicines. Since then several more vaccine production facilities have been constructed but the gap between demand and supply remains wide. This agreement may be a small but meaningful step to make Africa less reliant on vaccine imports. Under the deal the drug itself will be produced by Serum Institute but ‘filling and finishing’ will take place at the Aspen facility in Gqeberha, South Africa.
Humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said the Aspen agreement is a step in the right direction but called for it to go beyond and include the actual drug substance production. A 2020 report on Ethiopia’s pharmaceutical sector, funded by the UK government, however, casts doubt on the feasibility to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients in Africa, saying it has relatively low margins and requires significant investment and technological capabilities.
India is one of the world’s leading generic drug-makers. Its private pharmaceutical firms have a strong foothold in Africa, thanks largely due to the cost competitiveness. Some 20% of Indian pharma exports goes to Africa with South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya the top three buyers. Many like Sun Pharma, Cipla, and Glenmark also have manufacturing facilities in Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. In August, Universal Corporation Limited of Kenya, which is majority owned by the Indian firm Strides Pharma Science, became the first African manufacturer to gain World Health Organisation (WHO) prequalification to produce sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, which is used to prevent malaria in pregnant women and infants.
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