Africa’s pharmaceutical industry and its potential to create jobs

by Iweka Kingsley

Africa is ‘high’ on importation of drugs and pharmaceutical products needed across the continent. Speaking at the Africa Business Health Forum which held yesterday in Addis Ababa, Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said that Africa currently spends at least $14 Billion on importation of pharmaceutical products needed in the continent.

There is huge demand for drugs, medicines and other pharmaceutical products to fight diseases in Africa, but the lack of capacity to locally manufacture these drugs and products led to the increased spending on importation of these essential products across the continent.

According to Soteri Gatera, the ECA’s Chief of Industrialisation and Infrastructure Section, “Africa is hugely dependent on imported pharmaceutical and medical products”

“It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs) used on the continent are imported from outside the continent with 70 per cent of the pharmaceutical and medical products market being served by foreign imports”

“An international standard, commercially viable pharmaceutical industry in Africa can contribute to improved access to effective, safe and affordable essential medicines and economic development”, he said.

Africa’s drug market is enticing

Despite the challenges facing Africa’s pharmaceutical industry, the continent is actually on track to become the fastest growing pharmaceutical market in the world. A McKinsey report shows how the value of the industry jumped from $4.7 Billion in 2003 to $20.8 billion a decade after in 2013. It is expected that by 2020, Africa’s pharmaceutical industry could present a $65 Billion opportunity. But how much of this opportunity is local?

Echoing Songwe’s words at the Forum, Africa should stop exporting the much-needed jobs and opportunities to other parts of the world, and invest in its own local pharmaceutical industry, in particular, to provide for its people and create jobs for its teeming youth population. According to her, as much as 16 million jobs is possible through public-private partnerships and collaboration in the industry.

South Africa as an example

A report “The Pharmaceutical Industry in South Africa 2017” highlights some of the developments in the South African manufacturing and retail sectors during 2016 and 2017.

The pharmaceutical industry provides medication to the South African population and was valued at between R42.6bn and R45bn in 2016. Involved in the sector are 276 companies licensed by the Department of Health and the Medical Controls Council.

Local manufacturing, valued at R 4.9bn in 2015, is dominated by local companies. In 2015 Aspen had a market share of 15.3% and Adcock Ingram’s market share was 8.9%. South African companies hold the number one position for overall market share, for Pharmaceuticals only and for over-the-counter medication only.

According to Getara, the untapped opportunities lend themselves to a wide array of partnerships for the promotion of inclusive and sustainable industrial development. The partnerships would create higher-skilled jobs, build equitable societies and safeguard the environment, while sustaining economic growth.

AUTHOR: Iweka Kingsley is the Founder/Publisher of

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