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COVID-19: Public private partnership in action

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How Africa copes with the attack on lives and livelihoods brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak will depend largely on how quickly stakeholders organise a public health response. The quality of the collaboration between public and private sector actors will determine the speed of that action. It is common knowledge that most African countries have weak public health systems and import up to 80 percent of the continent’s pharmaceutical needs. With the Covid-19 pandemic now confirmed in all 55 African states, the magnitude of the challenge is like nothing recorded in modern history. It has cast the spotlight on the capacity of healthcare systems across the continent to cope with an outbreak of disease.The dependence of most African nations on imported pharma products is more significant today because many foreign trade partners have closed their borders as part of measures to contain the spread of the disease. No time to waste

As things stand today, the local capacity of many countries is grossly insufficient to address the needs for diagnostic tests and other healthcare products and equipment. The challenge to import supplies is exacerbated by the fact that many developed countries are also in a race to acquire similar medical supplies. Consequently, the scope for Africa to receive external help is limited and may be expensive in the short term. This means there is clearly pressing need to not only upgrade local capacity to manufacture diagnostic test kits, protective kits and quality assured medicines but also to collaborate across the continent to ensure that systems are in place to allocate limited resources efficiently to where they are most needed. Given the urgency of the challenge, public private partnership models must be explored to attend quickly to the needs of African nations. Governments, national and regional policy makers, development finance institutions, philanthropic organisations, African pharma companies and other stakeholders must converge quickly to ensure that diagnostic testing kits,contact tracing systems and pharmaceutical supplies becomes available as soon as possible.

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Leveraging existing structures
As African nations come to grips with the Covid-19 challenge, they must leverage effective structures that will save time and effort for all combating the outbreak of the virus. The Africa Pharma Conference (APC) is a platform for such a time as this. AUDA-NEPAD, in collaboration with DFS Africa launched the Africa Pharma Conference (APC) in 2018. More than an event, the APC is designed to cultivate an African pharma ecosystem with a view to accelerate investments in the sector and support the implementation of the Africa Union Commission (AUC) endorsed Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA).

The objective of the PMPA is to create a viable pharmaceutical industry that can provide the essential medical products to improve public health outcomes while creating jobs, increase research and development across the pharmaceutical manufacturing value chain, and enhance the industrial base of the continent. Sadly, progress on the implementation of the plan has been slow since it was endorsed by African leaders in 2007. However, in two years, the APC platform has cultivated an African pharma ecosystem of stakeholders that can underpin the continent’s response to the Covid-19 threat. Indeed, Covid-19 presents an excellent opportunity to unleash Africa’s latent pharma potential.

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Connecting the dots
The DFS Africa/AUD-NEPAD partnership has created a resource pool that must be unleashed in this season. The African Pharma ecosystem curated by the Africa Pharma Conference include organisation such as the Federation of African Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (FAPMA), the Access to Medicine Foundation, the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The ecosystem also includes institutions such as the World Health Organisation and the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) as well as development finance institutions such as the Africa Development Bank and the African Export-Import Bank just to mention a few. African countries seeking diagnostic test kits, personal protective equipment and critical pharmaceutical products should take advantage of the network and resources curated by the AUDA-NEPAD and DFS Africa partnership. For example, by contacting AUDA-NEPAD, governments and organisations seeking to procure medical products can access a network of potential suppliers across the continent who are able to scale up production on receipt of an off-taker’s contract. The same can be said for those looking to acquire personal protective equipment and critical pharmaceutical products.

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Unleashing latent potential
Contrary to the rhetoric that Africa has to import all the products needed by public health workers to address the Covid-19 threat, AUDA-NEPAD, have found that the capacity to ramp up production of these items exist across the continent. The key challenge that has limited the growth of many producers has been the unfavourable market conditions that often favour imports. However, given the Covid-19 driven demand for products, the APC platform is able to connect the dots for those seeking capital to scale production, scientists and potential off-takers of pharma products. Regarding the financing needs of Africa pharma project sponsors, it is heart-warming to note that several development finance institutions including the Africa Development Bank and the Afreximbank, who are part of the Africa Pharma ecosystem have recently announced plans to invest in pharma projects across the continent.

Time to act
In the face of an unprecedented public health scare that threatens the lives and livelihood of over 1.2 billion people, stakeholders in the “Africa project” must urgently, creatively and radically take steps to combat the unseen Covid-19 enemy and this starts by procuring the tools and equipment needed by those in the frontlines.

Ultimately, more sustainable actions should be taken by governments across the continent to improve public health systems. In addition to improving the quality of life of citizens, this will create jobs, enhance skills, reinvigorate local industries and incentivise the private sector. In the meantime, however, the immediate focus should be to tap into all resources available to address the current needs. There’s no time to reinvent the wheel. We risk the lives of millions who have no defence against a ravaging pandemic. Africa’s pharma ecosystem must come together and together we can beat this virus.
The time to act is now!

Famurewa is an award winning anchor/producer at CNBC Africa and conference moderator.

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