Cameroon establishes its own generic drug production unit

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At a time when over seventy per cent of Africans still lack access to treatments against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, among other diseases, Cameroon has taken a giant step to develop the production of generic drugs with the help of the African Union. Much less expensive than brand drugs, these drugs will be accessible to a greater number of people at affordable prices.

90% of all pharmaceuticals used in Africa are either imported or from an international aid programme. A figure that reveals the necessity of an ambitious project that sees the gathering of African health professionals seeking to develop the production of generic drugs on the continent and ensure that drugs are made available to Africans.

“The supply of generic drugs are mainly in Asia and particularly India. There are some local initiatives but they are not enough,” said Clotaire Manga, pharmacist and head of the Burkina Faso drugs documentation and information centre. Design drugs tailored to meet local needs in what concerns public health has become a priority for some countries like Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania, indicates Afrique Avenir.

After the establishment of an earlier initiative in Libreville, Gabon, in 2005, Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital, this year, in April, saw the inauguration of a manufacturing plant that will see the production of generic drugs. Compagnie industrielle pharmaceutique (Cinpharm), which cost nearly 11 billion CFA francs to build, was financed to a high extent by the Cameroon government, with some financial assistance from India and Finland, according to Cameroon-Report.

“It was necessary given the current situation in Cameroon. Today, 217,000 people need treatment against AIDS. It is therefore a big advantage to be able to produce these drugs locally to make them accessible to the greatest number of people,” says Bertrand Kampo, head of the Cameroon Movement for Advocacy and Access to Treatment.

The production plant will soon manufacture high quantities of antimalarials, analgesics, antivirals, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs of all sorts.

AU commitment

Between 70 and 90% less expensive than brand name drugs, these generic drugs are expected to ensure a new lease of life for African populations. “Generic drugs are needed in Africa where there is a real problem of purchasing power. Africans can not afford to spend huge sums on health care,” Clotaire Manga argues.

In January 2005, AU member countries met to sign the Abuja Declaration to support the development of a plan for pharmaceutical innovation in Africa. And the new Cameroonian initiative has been lauded by the whole of Africa with a strong support from the African Union.

But with the establishment of pharmaceutical plants come the challenge of qualified personnel. An obvious challenge which requires an essential investment in the training of competent scientists. “It is necessary to have quality products that meet WHO standards,” says Audrey Vermeersch, a pharmacist at the headquarters of Doctors Without Borders.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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