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Africa’s Pharmaceutical Industry Needs More Locally Trained Professionals to Continue its Growth

Pharmaceutical research, conceptual image.

Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is one of the world’s fastest growing. In just ten years it has exploded—growing from US$4.7 billion in 2003 to US$20.8 billion in 2013. And based on projections for the next five years, the need for prescription medicines, generics, over-the-counter medicines and medical devices on the continent is estimated to grow by between 6% and 11%.

Despite the boom, the continent’s pharmaceutical industry faces several challenges that will stifle its growth. Africa has a dire shortage of specialists to conduct clinical research and develop novel medicines to tackle diseases on the continent. In addition, the regulation of the industry and new medicines is also not standardized.

But comprehensively training people in medicines development, regulatory sciences and clinical research remains a major challenge for universities, industry and regulatory agencies in Africa.

A range of infectious and non-communicable diseases plague the continent. Non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes are growing. In 1990 they accounted for 28% of illnesses and 35% of deaths. This is projected to rise to 60% and 65% by 2020.

As a result of the disease burden, pharmaceutical companies have been expanding their activities in Africa. Local companies have been integral in this process. More than 300 pharmaceutical companies have manufacturing sites in Africa and are active in drug production and clinical trials.

In South Africa alone, 270 new clinical trials start every year and 550 trials are active at any point. The continent’s largest generics company, South African-based Aspen Pharmacare, is among the top ten generic companies globally.

But clinical research in sub-Saharan Africa is mostly performed by international companies with local subsidiaries. Since the 1980s, pharmaceuticals have set up medical departments and contracted research organisations to help their medicine development. Increasingly clinicians are also leading research in the form of investigator-initiated trials.

These clinical trials need to be managed and performed by local appropriately qualified specialists.

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