Deputy Health Minister, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, has called on world health leaders to assist Africa in ensuring it can produce its own pharmaceutical products.
Citing the latest International Monetary Fund publication data, Dhlomo said Africa, with a population of about 1.3 billion, had 375 drug makers.
Of these, most were in North Africa, while those based in Sub-Saharan Africa were found in nine out of 46 countries.
“By comparison, China and India, each with roughly 1.4 billion in population, have as many as 5 000 and 10 500 drug manufacturers, respectively,” the Deputy Minister said.
Dhlomo was speaking on Monday at the World Health Summit currently underway in Berlin, Germany, where he is leading the South African delegation.
By 2040, the Deputy Minister said the world population would have increased to an estimated 9.4 billion, representing a growth of 1.4 billion between 2020 and 2040.
“When we consider the worldwide population growth against the manufacturing capacity we need to achieve, we should take this as a great opportunity for Africa to manufacture for the world.”
However, according to the Deputy Minister, Africa, with a 3% share market, has a long way to go.
“I believe each of us has a role to play to ensure Africa has adequate capacity to satisfy the growing demand,” he said.
The Deputy Minister said manufacturing geo-diversity for public health goods is a non-negotiable for global health security.
“As South Africa, we can never forget that despite being able to afford vaccines, our COVID-19 inoculation campaign was delayed by export bans and contamination in foreign manufacturing plants.
“This compounded the fact that we were already at the back of the queue because our volumes and market influence could not compete with those of rich nations.”
This year’s World Health Summit focuses on key themes such as pandemic preparedness, strategies for improving global healthcare, digitalisation, and health aspects of climate change and interdisciplinary cooperation in research.
“As a continent, we cannot forget that hundreds of millions have died of preventable, infectious diseases in the past century, while we negotiated for the right things to be done – for prices to come down; for technology to be shared and for those who need it most to be prioritised.
“It was never sustainable to depend on others for our own needs and the African Union has therefore called on all of us to shift gears and create domestic capacity for domestic resilience.”
Dhlomo highlighted the importance of financing, policymaking and law-making aspects of pharmaceutical manufacturing.
“From the governance perspective, we look forward to your insights on what sovereign States and governments, regional organisations and global organisations that represent governments should be taking responsibility for and how we can enable the private sector and civil society to honour their responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, he said South Africans have collectively made great strides to contribute to the local manufacturing agenda for the continent.
He touched on the country’s success stories and progress. Dhlomo referred to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), which has advanced to the World Health Organisation maturity level three qualification.
“This is an important milestone, as we ratify the African Medicine’s Agency treaty in our Parliament.”
He told delegates that the Department of Science and Innovation has invested R15 million into the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient Hub and R25 million into genomic surveillance, which is now at the heart of manufacturing precision.
He urged the continent to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area to manufacture products together rather than creating inter-country competition for end-to-end capability.
“It is not feasible for every manufacturer to do end-to-end. Therefore, we must have a clear picture of the manufacturing landscape on the continent, so that we can coordinate more effectively to deliver high-quality African products.”