On July 14th, during the third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, the Government of Ethiopia launched its “National strategy and plan of action for pharmaceutical manufacturing development in Ethiopia.” The strategic plan sets out time-bound goals for a range of inter-connected, complementary activities that aim to transform Ethiopia’s pharmaceutical sector and expand output to meet local needs for essential medicines.

The high-level event was attended by the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia, His Excellency Demeke Mekonnen, African Union Chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, WHO Director Dr Margaret Chan, GAVI CEO Dr Seth Berkley, and Global Fund Against AIDS, TB and Malaria Executive Director Mr Mark Dybul. There was also high level representation from the African Development Bank, the World Bank, UNOPS and UNIDO.

Speaking at the launch event, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark congratulated the Government of Ethiopia on the ambitious plan and stressed its importance not only for public health, but also for the overall development. She expressed UNDP’s readiness to support the Government of Ethiopia in this effort to strengthen the pharmaceutical sector as an important building block to improving public health outcomes and sustainable development more broadly.

The 10-year National Strategy and Plan of Action for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Development in Ethiopia (2015-2025) identifies a set of objectives designed to enhance access to medicines through quality local production. These include strengthening the regulatory system, providing appropriate incentives and attracting foreign direct investment, production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), creation of a research and development platform and development of human resources.

Investments in health have far-reaching impact on economic and social development of a country – every additional year of life expectancy can raise GDP in Africa by an estimated 4%. A thriving pharmaceutical sector can also be a driver for economic growth in LMICs by creating jobs, building human resource capacity and catalyzing national research and development. While previously local pharmaceutical production in sub-Saharan Africa was not regarded as an economically viable proposition due to high cost of production, shortage of skilled workers and supply chain challenges, the perceptions of the viability of local pharmaceutical production in Africa have changed in recent years. Local manufacturers in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana have been able to demonstrate that local production of quality assured medicines is not only viable, but cost- effective.

Recognizing the importance of the pharmaceutical sector for Africa, several regional and continental initiatives to support local production have been set up, such as the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (AU PMPA), which was adopted in 2007 and the East African Community Regional Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan of Action. The AU PMPA aims to guide member states towards an efficient and effective pharmaceutical production sector, capable of making significant contributions to meeting national, regional and international demand for pharmaceutical products. With the launch of a national strategy and plan of action, Ethiopia became the first country in Africa to formally take steps to implement the PMPA domestically.

As a member of the consortium established by the African Union Commission to facilitate the implementation of the AU PMPA, UNDP has collaborated with consortium partners, such as UNIDO, NEPAD, UNAIDS and WHO, to support countries to put into effect the PMPA at the national level.

An enabling legal, policy and regulatory environment is a key component in promoting and sustaining the local pharmaceutical industry. Through the Access and Delivery Partnership (ADP), UNDP is working with government stakeholders in Ghana and Tanzania to integrate key policies, including those related R&D and innovation, medicines safety monitoring and procurement. Support is also provided to align national policy frameworks with regional plans and strategies, including the AU PMPA. In addition, ADP has facilitated South-South learning on such issues, through a regional consultation in April 2015, which brought together policy makers from 12 African countries to share experiences and lessons on developing enabling policy and legal frameworks for access to medicines.

Farzana Nawaz is a project manager at Inis Communication.