According to Wesley Ronoh, the EAC secretariat’s expert on pharmaceutical sector issues based at the bloc’s headquarters in Arusha, most graduate pharmacists cannot meet the expectations of drugmakers because they lack hands-on training.
“They may have studied all that is theoretical in the textbooks, but never put into practice what they are taught. Local universities are also not producing enough industrial pharmacists, ”Ronoh said in conversation with reporters from the six EAC member states on a recent media tour.
He said the EAC secretariat, working with GIZ, was working to initiate a review of college education programs to enable the production of the kind of professional graduate pharmacists that manufacturers are looking for.
The media tour focused on the implementation of a Single Customs Territory (SCT), Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) and other successes and challenges of the East African pharmaceutical industry .
EAC countries are currently more than 70% dependent on imports to meet their pharmaceutical drug needs, although officials say plans are being made to reduce this dependence on imports to less than 50% by now. 2027.
According to Ronoh, more than 50% of pharmaceuticals imported into the EAC come from Asia, especially India and China.
He also said that the non-production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) puts local businesses at a cost disadvantage compared to imports. API production requires the right knowledge (equipment and skills) and a consolidated local market to justify such an investment, he explained.
Another challenge hampering the sector, according to Ronoh, is the lack of appropriate funding for establishment and operations, as well as the poor understanding of the sector as a whole by funding institutions.
For example, he noted, the lines of credit available are short-term and with high interest rates.
The EAC Regional Action Plan for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing (RPMPOA), covering the period 2017-2027, aims to ensure that at least 50% of purchases made by national drug supply agencies in the ‘EAC come from the pharmaceutical manufacturers of EAC, to help them expand their own portfolios.
Under RPMPOA, at least five pharmaceutical companies will also be directly supported to produce more advanced pharmaceutical ingredients, APIs and other health technologies.
Investments in the sector will be increased to more than $ 200 million, with joint ventures established so far in Uganda and Kenya, while the Tanzanian pharmaceutical company Aspen / Shelly has acquired Beta Healthcare in Kenya.
Available data indicates that there are a total of 66 pharmaceutical industries in the EAC region, the bulk (40) in Kenya. Tanzania and Uganda follow with 12 each, while Rwanda and Burundi have one each, and South Sudan has yet to establish one.
Kenya (6,000) also leads the total number of direct jobs created in the sector so far, with Tanzania and Uganda each having 1,800.
But the total pharmaceutical drug exports / imports for all EAC countries combined is still far lower than that of Egypt and South Africa, the continent’s two largest and most developed pharmaceutical markets.
Dar es Salaam-based Zenufa Laboratories Limited Managing Director Hitesh Upret called for collective efforts to change attitudes that the quality of drugs produced by local manufacturers is inferior to imported drugs.
“It is not true that locally produced drugs are inferior or do not meet international standards. We are spending an additional 10-15 investments just to maintain good manufacturing practices (GMP), ”Upret said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the benchmark for GMP to ensure that drug producers adhere to guidelines recommended by agencies that oversee international authorizations and licenses. The main purpose of GMP is to prevent end users from harming.
Dr George Mungi, head of quality services and regulatory affairs at Kenyan pharmaceutical manufacturing company Universal Corporation Limited (UCL), urged East African governments to be bold, to ban imports and reduce levies. This, he said, will help local industries to grow and use their production capacities 100%.
According to Dr Mungi, UCL now only uses 40% of its production capacity due to various challenges, including competition for tenders with foreign drug manufacturing companies.
UCL manufactures generic drugs of various brands. Its products are also supplied to WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).