AfDB unveils Foundation to halt Africa’s $14bn annual medicine import

The Board of Directors, African Development Bank (AfDB), has approved the establishment of an African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation for the continent’s access to technologies.

According to the bank, this is for the manufacture of medicines, vaccines and other pharmaceutical products.

In a statement by the bank’s Communication and External Relations Department on Monday in Abuja, the AfDB President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, described the development as a leap for Africa.

He said with Africa importing more than 70% of all the medicines it needs and consuming $14 billion yearly, the establishment of the Foundation was a major development.

Adesina said: “Global efforts to rapidly expand manufacturing of essential pharmaceutical products including vaccines in developing countries, particularly in Africa, to assure greater access, had been hampered.

“This has been hampered by intellectual property rights protection and patents on technological know-how, manufacturing processes and trade secrets.

“African pharmaceutical companies do not have the scouting and negotiation capacity, and bandwidth to engage with global pharmaceutical companies.

“They have been marginalised and left behind in complex global pharmaceutical innovations.”

He decried that of the 35 companies which recently signed a licence with America’s Merck to produce Nirmatrelvir, a COVID-19 drug, none was African.

African pharmaceutical companies do not have the scouting and negotiation capacity, and bandwidth to engage with global pharmaceutical companies.

Dearth of institutions

Adesina further said there are no institutions in Africa to support the practical implementation of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) on nonexclusive or exclusive licensing of proprietary technologies, know-how and processes.

He expressed optimism that the Foundation would fill existing gaps when fully established.

“It will be staffed with world-class experts on pharmaceutical innovation and development, intellectual property rights, and health policy.

“It will act as a transparent intermediator advancing and brokering the interests of the African pharmaceutical sector with global and other Southern pharmaceutical companies,” the statement said.

Adesina continued: “Africa must have a health defence system, which must include three major areas – revamping Africa’s pharmaceutical industry, building Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capacity, and building Africa’s quality healthcare infrastructure.”

The statement said African leaders had called on AfDB to facilitate the establishment of the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation.

The AfDB President, who presented the case for the institution to the African Union at the Summit in Addis Ababa in February, said it was a bold initiative.

“Africa can no longer outsource the healthcare security of its 1.3 billion citizens to the benevolence of others. With this bold initiative, the African Development Bank has made good on that commitment.

“The decision is a major boost to the health prospects of a continent that has been battered for decades by the burden of several diseases and pandemics such as COVID-19, but with very limited capacity to produce its own medicines and vaccines.”

The statement also said the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), welcomed the bank’s decision to establish the Foundation.

The Director-General, WTO, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was quoted as saying: “the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation is innovative thinking and action by the African Development Bank.

“It provides part of the infrastructure needed to assure an emergent pharmaceutical industry in Africa.”

Also, the Director-General, WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, said: “Establishing the Foundation is a game changer for accelerating access of African pharmaceutical companies to IP-protected technologies and know-how in Africa.”

The Foundation’s activities would prioritise technologies, products and processes focused primarily on diseases that were widely prevalent in Africa.

Foundation operations

The Foundation’s operations would prioritise technologies, products and processes focused primarily on diseases that were widely prevalent in Africa.

The Foundation would also build human and professional skills, research and development ecosystem, while supporting the upgrade of manufacturing plant capacities and regulatory quality to meet WHO standards.

Additionally, the Foundation would operate independently and raise funds from various stakeholders including governments, development finance institutions, and philanthropic organisations among others.

“The Foundation will boost the African Development Bank’s commitment to spend at least $3 billion over the next 10 years. This is to support the pharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturing sector under its Vision 2030 Pharmaceutical Action Plan.

“The Foundation’s areas of work will also be an asset to all other current investments into pharmaceutical production in Africa.

“Rwanda will host the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation. It will have its own governance and operational structures, while promoting and brokering alliances between foreign and African pharmaceutical companies.”

The Foundation would strengthen local pharmaceutical companies to engage in local production initiatives with systematic technology among others.

It will collaborate with the African Union Commission, European Union Commission, WHO and other stakeholders in developed countries and developing countries.

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