August 26, 2021

Many Africans lack access to medicines, and so are susceptible to the three big killer diseases on the continent: malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Globally, 50% of children under five who die of pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These diseases can be prevented or treated with timely access to appropriate and affordable medicines, vaccines and other health services. But less than 2% of drugs consumed in Africa are produced on the continent, meaning that many sick patients do not have access to locally produced drugs and may not afford to buy the imported ones.

About 80% of Africans, mostly those in the middle-income bracket and below, rely on public health facilities. With public health facilities suffering chronic shortages of critical drugs, many patients die of easily curable diseases.

Africa’s inefficient and bureaucratic public sector supply system is often plagued by poor procurement practices that make drugs very costly or unavailable. Added to these are the poor transportation system, a lack of storage facilities for pharmaceutical products and a weak manufacturing capacity. Africa’s capacity for pharmaceutical research and development (R & D) and local drug production still has a long way to go. Only 37 out of 54 African states have some level of pharmaceutical production. Except South Africa, which boasts some active local pharmaceutical ingredients, most countries rely on imported ingredients.

Africa’s solutions to improving citizen access to medicine could lie in stimulating local production, developing the right policies and infrastructure, and training and retaining its medical talents.

(Guest Editorial)

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