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Africa focus: pharmaceutical companies increasingly interested in doing business in Africa

The 2018 Access to Medicine Index finds that four of the 20 research-based companies evaluated are implementing or expanding commercial models in Africa. Several of these models focus on products for heart disease, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, which are on the rise globally.

Building capacity to enable access

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, only one country (Equatorial Guinea) has no initiative that qualified for analysis.

The Index also reports that African countries are the focus of companies’ efforts to support and build the capacity of local healthcare systems and supply chains, amongst others. Capacity building efforts are critical for advancing universal health coverage (UHC). 

Innovative business models

  • In Ghana, Novartis is working with local private medicinal shops to make blood pressure screening more convenient and to dispense medicines from within the community. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart disease and affects up to 36% of adults in Ghana, where long and costly journeys often prevent people seeking the healthcare they need.
  • In Kenya, Merck KGaA is expanding its initiative to set up local healthcare centres. It is now running in the counties of Kiambu, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni and Mombasa. These centres each provide pharmacy and nursing services, as well as insurance schemes and financing for healthcare.
  • In Zambia, 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. These entrepreneurs sell oral health, pain control, contraceptive and other health-related products, together with goods such as cooking stoves.

Important gaps remain

A medicine or vaccine can only be marketed in a country once it has been registered for sale. Yet the Index finds important gaps in the registration of new innovative products in African countries. While some countries have seen new products being filed, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, there are 13 countries across Africa with no new product registrations identified by the Index for corresponding priority diseases, including Sudan, South Sudan, Angola and Somalia, which are together home to 150 million people. One factor that promises to improve this situation is the creation of the new African Medicines Agency (AMA), which has been tasked with speeding up the registration process of pharmaceutical products across Africa.


Learn more

View our detailed overview of each company’s performance in the Index, including breakdowns of their product portfolios and R&D pipelines.

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