Emily Kaine, MD, is the senior vice president for global health at the U.S. Pharmacopeia. Jude Nwokike is a vice president for global public health at the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruptions to global supply chains. Africa is particularly vulnerable with respect to pharmaceuticals, both because between 70 and 90 percent are imported and because the continent generally lacks the political sway and bargaining power of other regions.

In the short-term, the most acute issue is the need for huge quantities of quality-assured protective equipment, tests and medicines to treat the symptoms of COVID-19.

Significant shortages of other essential medicines could materialize. With access to such essential medical products across the continent challenged, there has been a commensurate uptick in substandard and falsified products related to the testing or treatment of COVID-19.

But many countries in Africa have underutilized capacity to produce quality-assured, essential pharmaceutical products locally.

In Nigeria, one of the countries with the greatest potential for rapidly scaling up production, pharmaceutical manufacturing production currently utilizes around 40 percent of actual installed capacity.

Manufacturing output remains lower than its potential in part due to inconsistent demand, challenges in sourcing active and raw ingredients, unfavorable market conditions, and a lack of available investment to scale up operations, modernize equipment, and resolve local infrastructure limitations.

Here are some ways to make use of this potential.

Africa in Transition
John Campbell and Michelle Gavin track political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa. Most weekdays.

Insufficient knowledge about the real capacity of local manufacturing sectors, sources of component parts, and expected market demand is hindering efforts to make use of local excess capacity.

Pharmaceutical manufacturing associations—along with market intelligence firms, multilateral agencies, and international donors—should lead a comprehensive mapping of the existing technical capacity, resources, and sources of raw materials available on the continent.

Meanwhile, governments should work to forecast demand for locally produced products and create a favorable policy environment for local manufacturers to compete with producers from abroad, allowing them to better manage the risk associated with capital investments for scale up.

Manufacturers and regulators must work to improve quality by applying international public quality standards to gain a competitive foothold, not only locally but in the broader global supply chain.

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