Is Africa capable of manufacturing its own pharmaceutical products? Is Afreximbank supporting any initiative in this regard?
Why not? For example, for the Johnson & Johnson vaccines we are buying, the fill and finished is being done by South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare facility. Here in Egypt [Afreximbank is headquartered in Cairo] Vacsera, [the vaccine manufacturers,] is working to begin producing vaccines. Companies in Algeria, Nigeria, and Senegal hope to produce vaccines.
Regarding pharmaceuticals, there is a good opportunity for Africa. The problem we have is access to markets. One of the things we are trying to change is to get those agencies that make huge orders to rethink their strategy, to give Africa the opportunity to produce pharmaceuticals.
We have had very fruitful discussions with UNICEF in this regard, and Afreximbank is ready, and I know other banks are, too. We signed an MOU with the Africa Finance Corporation to collaborate and support vaccine manufacturing projects in Africa.
We need to create this capacity for manufacturing pharmaceutical products because there is a market for them. In fact, we are the market. These drugs are coming to us; the buyers buy the products from other markets and then ship them to us. So, we want to change that situation. We’ve seen the danger of over-concentration of production in a few places.
Will the effective implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) help in this regard?
Of course, that’s one of the rationales for the AfCFTA. An integrated market will create supply chains; the markets will begin to consolidate, and we will have that buying power that will make it possible to produce more within the continent.
If people can buy things from any part of Africa, you will see an aggregation of demand. Today, we are a fragmented market. We don’t have information about what happens across the border.
The AfCFTA will help deal with this lack of market information. And when we deal with it and consolidate the market, we’ll begin to change the narrative on the continent.
How does Africa acquire the requisite technology to manufacture its pharmaceuticals, given that companies in advanced countries tend to protect technology secrets?
Technology is an issue of intellectual property, isn’t it? Knowledge is cumulative. Take your mind back to say 35 years ago, 40 years ago. Was China where it is today? Did they have the technology then that they have today?
We must find a way to foster technology transfer, especially for something that will provide health security.
At Afreximbank, we have a facility to make it easier for foreign companies to license their technologies to African manufacturers. We guarantee payment of the royalties or license fees, we guarantee that the license fees will be used according to the terms of the agreement, and we guarantee nothing will be expropriated. The alternative is what we don’t want, where people steal the technology. We want a fair and transparent transfer of technology.
Also, we must begin to strengthen the capacities of our educational institutions so that Africans can contribute significantly to global knowledge and own intellectual property. That is the way we think things should evolve. So, we’re helping to pay for access to technology, helping to finance manufacturing—that is in the short term. But over time, we must support our people to create their technology.
The Director of Africa CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, calls for co-creation. We can co-create because we have the local knowledge and the resources. If you look at our biodiversity, for example, what we have that has helped feed the pharmaceutical drug industry is amazing