NOTICE: Museveni’s call for domestic production of pharmaceutical ingredients should be adopted

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By Alex Nuwamanya

The 2021 high-level summit on expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa strongly highlighted four factors blocking access to medicines in Africa, including the lack of essential, but most widely used, pharmaceutical additives, such as pharmaceutical grade starch, sugar and cellulosic additives.

The goal of the summit was well aligned with President Museveni’s previous speech on June 4, 2020 in Kampala, and a January 2020 address to more than 70 UK companies at the inaugural UK and Africa Business Forum at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel Central London.

On both occasions, the president boldly proclaimed a decade of industrialization with a bias for the local production of pharmaceutical ingredients. The socio-economic implications of such an industry are
sufficiently reported in the NRM Manifesto 2021-2026, pages 48 and 66, 81 B, D to be exact.

Political will and thought leadership at the highest level will limit dependence on pharmaceutical grade imports while making it clear that pharmaceutical manufacturing is not the business of individuals or
an agency but a national question.

Pharmaceutical grade starch, for example, is the most widely used ingredient in the manufacture of drugs, mainly produced in India, China and Eastern Europe.

There is hardly any production on the African continent.

According to the 2021 Cognitive Market Report, a well-known leader in business projection. The global pharmaceutical grade starch market is expected to reach a volume of 156.3 million metric tons by
2025, which translates to a value of 9.36 billion USD. The East African regional bloc market is worth USD 294 million while Uganda spends USD 20 million per year on pharmaceutical grade starch.

Uganda and Africa as a whole do not participate in this production, a perennial syndrome that we can attach to our fragile trade balance and the relatively high cost of locally produced medicines. There is ample evidence that the cost of importing pharmaceutical excipients actually increases the cost of drugs by 7 percentage points.

According to the Ugandan Investment Authority, our chemicals sector accounts for over 10% of Uganda’s manufacturing value added – the highest in the region, this implies that large capacity national pharmaceutical factories, such as chemicals Cipla-grade pharmaceutical industries in Renne and Kampala are potential markets for locally produced pharmaceutical ingredients.

At regional level

The East African Community (EAC) and the Central, Eastern and Southern African Common Markets (COMESA) remain the destinations for Uganda’s formal exports with a share of total export earnings of 51%. These blocks are home to more than 50 active drug manufacturing plants, with a combined population of 400 million.

We could therefore take advantage of this large market potential to produce pharmaceutical grade starch.
beyond our internal requirements. Use national and regional instruments such as the recent
launched a national industrial policy with the aim of tapping into the continental $ 1.2 billion free market and the ambitious and realistic East Africa Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan 2017 –
2027 (EAPMP) aims to reduce imports of pharmaceutical ingredients from 70% to 50%.

Relying on such fertile political commitments could boost the added value of our industry as a percentage of GDP from the current 27%, while creating thousands of jobs and facilitating the
cost of drug production.

Pharmaceutical grade starch is a modified form of native starches extracted from corn and cassava. Figures from the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) indicate that Uganda’s annual production capacity is 5 and 5.5 tonnes of maize and cassava, respectively.

Conversely, our domestic consumption capacity is 2.56 million tonnes of maize and 60% of cassava. With increased investment in stress-resistant maize and cassava varieties by the National Crops Resources Research Institute Namulonge (NACRRI), production is expected to double by 2030.
Paradoxically, with abundant local inputs for the manufacture of excipients (cassava and corn), we depend heavily on imports from China or India.

With such an excess of agricultural production, coupled with unpredictable trade relations with our neighbors. It is relevant that emerging markets such as pharmaceutical grade starch are rapidly exploited. This will protect more than two million households engaged in maize or cassava cultivation against investment losses while providing them with the opportunity to improve their
means of subsistence.

To understand why the President is championing a call for domestic production of pharmaceutical ingredients, we must view reliance on pharmaceutical imports as a risky business in the face of
health security.

China and India control the largest market share of the most widely used pharmaceutical ingredients in the world. With both countries severely affected by the pandemic, production lines have been disrupted and the workforce has been reduced while meeting national obligations.

India had to restrict imports of 26 drugs and their excipients while the European Union introduced several export authorizations. This shows how stretched individual countries are at home.
If we don’t outsource pharmaceutical ingredients locally, global pandemics like this could effectively shatter our domestic production lines. An involvement that we cannot afford.

The writer is a pharmaceutical scientist

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