There has been an increase in interest from multinational pharmaceutical companies in doing business in Africa that benefits people on lower incomes.
According to a new analysis dubbed the Access to Medicine Index, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia are among a list of African countries that global pharmaceutical firms are keen to explore.
However, the 2018 Index also finds important gaps in where drug companies are registering new products on the African continent.
The Access to Medicine Index ranks 20 of the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical companies on how they are improving access to medicine in low and middle-income countries.
In 2018, the Index reports that four of these companies are implementing or expanding commercial models in Africa that serve people on very low incomes. Several of these models focus on products for heart disease, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, which are on the rise globally.
In Ghana, Novartis, a Switzerland-based drug company, is working with local private medicine shops to make blood pressure screening more convenient and to dispense medicines from within the community.
In Kenya, Merck KGaA, a German multinational pharmaceutical firm, is expanding its initiative to set up local healthcare centres in the country’s Kiambu, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni and Mombasa Counties.
In Zambia, British pharmaceutical company, GSK is training local people as entrepreneurs who can provide affordable health products to their communities, supported by lower interest loans provided savings are passed on.
“The Index first noted pharmaceutical companies taking a strategic interest in Africa in 2014,” explained Gabrielle Breugelmans, Director of Research at the Access to Medicine Foundation, which publishes the Index.
“Today, we see signs that this interest is deepening. The next challenge is to ensure the best ideas benefit the poorest people,” she added.
Companies generally first invest in capacity building in markets where there is commercial potential. In the Index analysis, Kenya has the most capacity building initiatives, followed by South Africa and then China. Overall, the Index analysed 141 capacity building initiatives in African countries.
The Index analysis only included initiatives that meet local needs for specific capacities and covers 50 of the 54 countries in Africa. Of these, 22 countries have no initiatives that qualified for analysis.
“Companies are deepening their focus and working with local partners,’ commented Jayasree K. Iyer, Executive Director of the Access to Medicine Foundation.
“We see this as a good sign of long-term commitment to improving health. To radically ramp up progress, more companies must stay engaged for the long haul,” he concluded.