by Ben Taylor
Calls for local production of medicine
President Magufuli has argued that the country must build its capacity for local drug factories. “Only 6% of the medicine is produced here… why? We must do something,’’ he said during an event hosted by the Medical Stores Department (MSD) in Dar es Salaam. According to data from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Tanzania spends over TSh 800 billion every year on importing medicine and medical supplies.
In response, researchers, investors and government leaders are now trying to answer the question: Can the local pharmaceutical industry recover its former glories?
Industrial players and researchers largely concur that current policy is unfavourable. Mr Jayesh Shah, Group Managing Director of Sumaria Group and former owner of Shelys, one of Tanzania’s largest pharmaceutical firms, urged the government to “come up with a policy that makes local manufacturing of drugs mandatory, unlike the current one which favours importation.’’
“The cost of production was higher than the profit I was making, that’s one of the reasons I had to move out of the business,” he added. A report published by REPOA, a research institution, in 2014 found that pharmaceutical production had been a Tanzanian industrial success in the mid-90s, but that such former success is now history. By 2014, the industry was in decline, said the report. “There is a lack of active public sector support for local firms as compared to other competing countries,’’ says the report. “It requires a change of mind-set for policy makers in Tanzania to turn to prioritising and actively engaging in selective support of the sector,’’ suggested an academic study published in 2016, Making Medicines in Africa.
Some investors sense an opportunity. Mr Ramadhan Madabida, Managing Director of Tanzania Pharmaceutical Industries Limited (TPIL), says the pharmaceutical demand is USD $550 million per annum, but added that “locally active pharmaceutical industries in Tanzania which produce medicine are still not enough to curb the shortage.”
A report by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment shows that there are 13 pharmaceutical factories in the country, but that only five are currently active and only four are fully licensed.
Mr Madabida says the government needs to work in collaboration with local investors in filling the gap. But, he emphasises that “the government should formulate policies that enable investors to access funding from financial institutions to encourage more investment.”
“It is important now to think of motivating the local investors through tax incentives and opportunities for borrowing. There is no letter of credit being given to the local investors to enable them access funding from local financial institutions, as compared to foreigners,” he added.
Following the President’s intervention, calling for local manufacturing of drugs, over 10 local investors have expressed an intention to put up local drug factories, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. The Ministry added that the government is now laying groundwork for a National Pharmaceutical Sector Strategy, intended to ease operations for local investors.
According to the Ministry, this strategy will create a 15% price advantage for locally manufactured medicines compared to imported medicines, develop a list of medicines to be manufactured locally, create a pharmaceutical industrial park and cut taxes on imported raw materials.
Activists protest expansion of cigarette production for local market
Executive Director of Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum (TTCF), Lutgard Kagaruki, argued that the opening of Mansoor Industries Limited – an affiliate of Philip Morris International – in Tanzania, is bad news for the country’s health sector as smoking youths will likely fall victim to killer diseases such as cancer.
The company has started rolling out its products under the Chesterfield brand, according to a statement issued by Mrs Kagaruki.
She claimed that more than 2.4 million adults (15+ years) in Tanzania and 17,000 children aged 10-14 years smoke tobacco. “Research at Ocean Road Cancer Institute indicated that 32% of all cancers at the institute were tobacco-related, costing government more than $40m annually,” she added.
Expansion of health service facilities
The government has spent a total of TSh 162 billion (USD $72 million) in recent months on improving 170 health centres, President John Magufuli has said. He was speaking at a function to unveil 181 vehicles – worth TSh 20 billion – belonging to the Medical Stores Department.
Upon completion of the improvement exercise, he explained, the 170 health centres will be capable of performing emergency operations on pregnant women and children as the country seeks to further reduce maternal death and child mortality.
Apart from upgrading the 170 health centres, said Dr Magufuli, the government has also built a 268 more health centres, bringing the total number of such facilities across the country to 7,284.
“This includes construction of regional hospitals in the new regions of Njombe, Geita, Katavi and Simiyu. We are also introducing and improving specialized services in various hospitals in the country,” he said.
Reports of Dengue fever outbreak
The Ministry of Health has confirmed several cases of Dengue fever in Dar es Salaam in early 2018. “11 patients have been diagnosed with the disease,” said the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Prof Mpoki Ulisubisya, adding that outbreak control measures are being implemented.
He said the ministry in collaboration with the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and local clinics will continue to make diagnosis to uncover more cases of the disease if any. Surveillance activities will be conducted in the coastal cities of Dar es Salaam and Tanga, according to the Ministry.
The worst dengue fever outbreak in Tanzania occurred in 2014 when more than 400 patients in Dar es Salaam were diagnosed with the disease and at least three died. Dengue fever is said to affect about 390 million people in the world every year, and is particularly prevalent along the East African coast.
There is no medicine or vaccine for dengue, so health experts recommend prevention by preventing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes that spread dengue are not the same as those that spread malaria, and bite both during the day and night.