By Amit Jain
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weakness of health infrastructure in Africa. Sub-Saharan African countries has few medicine production facilities and those that do exist are reliant on importation of APIs and excipients, which are essential to formulate finished pharmaceutical products. This leaves Africans at the mercy of donor help or expensive imported medicines. But if recent developments are any guide, this may all be about to change.
The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has approved a US$400,000 in grant funding to the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) of Nigeria for the establishment of an Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) plant.
API plant project is seen as a critical step towards Nigeria’s efforts to achieve pharmaceutical independence and self-sufficiency. Afreximbank said its financial support to the NIPRD for this facility would ‘not only catalyse the security of supply of medicines across Africa, but also promote the industrialisation of the pharmaceutical sector’.
Afreximbank is a Pan-African multilateral financial institution mandated to finance and promote intra-and extra-African trade. Afreximbank has disbursed more than US$6.5 billion in 2020 to help member countries manage the adverse impact of financial, economic, and health shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nigeria started manufacturing meningitis over a decade ago when the government granted license to a private firm – BioVaccines to set up a local facility. Despite its success the pharma industry in Nigeria remains in a state of infancy. It takes long for a pharma firm to acquire license and even longer to get its medicines certified. Government health ministry and regulatory agencies are ill equipped to test modern medicines and so the industry remains still-born.
Over the past two to three decades, Nigeria has built some capacity in supply chain and logistics which includes cold chain capabilities. It was this infrastructure that allowed the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) to eradicate polio. NIPRD was established with the primary objective of enhancing the development and commercialisation of pharmaceutical raw materials, drugs and biological products from Nigeria’s indigenous natural resources. The agency has renovated its facilities, upgraded equipment and re-trained staff over the past two years. According to Obi Adigwe is the Director-General of NIPRD, the agency’s efforts have resulted in a three-fold increase in the number of locally manufactured medical products registered. Nigerians still use herbal medicines as first port of call for treatment of illnesses. Against the background of a breakthrough made by the institute in the area of ‘phyto’ medicine, Nigeria has not tapped its home-grown knowledge of plants and ‘ethno’ pharmaceutical capability into producing modern medicines.
There is big gap between vaccine requirements in Africa and vaccine availability. Even if Africa were to receive the 600 million doses of vaccine expected to be delivered to the continent by the end of 2021 under the COVAX arrangement, there would still be a considerable shortfall when compared to the population of the continent. COVID-19 vaccine deliveries would have to increase from around 20 million doses a month to an average of 150 million doses a month if the target of fully vaccinating 70% of Africa’s population by September 2022 is to be achieved. As of November 2021, however, Africa had fully vaccinated 77 million people, amounting to just 6% of the continent’s population. At about the same time, India, which has roughly the same population size, had fully vaccinated 38% of its population – which is roughly the same size as that of Africa while Singapore, a dense city-state has vaccinated nearly 87% of its people.
There is a clear need for the expansion of vaccine production capacity in Africa. It would require investments and licensing agreements with big pharmaceutical companies for the transfer of intellectual property and technology.
 Afreximbank approves US$400000 grant to manufacture To NIPRD To Boost Local Pharma, Daily Independent, 12 Nov 2021
 How NIPRD Is Supporting Nigeria's Fight Against Covid-19, Premium Times, 11 Jan 2021
 Nearly 80 percent of India's eligible population administered first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, The Times of India, 12 Nov 2021
 Buhari: We’ve Invested Massively in Roads, Rail, Power, Airports, This Day, 12 Nov 2021