Medicine: A boon for both patients and investors

  • April 17, 2017

Medicines play one of the most significant role in the healthcare industry. Medicines are required generally by everyone. The huge range of medicines make it one of the most commonly sought item. The existence of medicine could be traced back to thousands of years, and during those days it was considered as an art. It also had connections to the religious and philosophical beleifs of local culture and tradition. According to Steve Richards, a pharmacists “Medicine has a long existence with the roots deeply growing since the ancient times. Medicine had a significant role in the culture and tradition. For instance, a man would apply herbs and say prayers for healing, or an ancient philosopher and physician would apply bloodletting according to the theories of humorism. In recent centuries, since the advent of modern science, most medicines have become a combination of art and science both”.

Modern day medicine has profound roots in the ancient Greece. On the one hand most Greeks believed in a god of healing called Asclepius. People who were ill, used to make sacrifices or offerings to the God. They then used to sleep overnight in his temple. They believed that the god would visit them in their sleep i.e. in their dreams and when they woke up they would be healed. The Greeks also knew that diet and exercise and keeping clean were important for health. No one is unaware of the power and importance of medicine in present century. Medicine doesn’t only take care of your health, but also offers a lucrative business opportunities especially in the region full of opportunities. This rewarding region of opportunities undubitably is Africa. At present, Africa carries 25% of the world’s disease burden, but consumes less than 1% of global health expenditure. It manufactures less than 2% of the medicines it consumes. Over 70% of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases and 90% of the deaths due to malaria currently occur in Africa. In addition, the continent bears 50% of the global deaths of children under the age of five, mainly due to neonatal causes as well as pneumonia, diarrhea, measles, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. The appalling reality, however, is that these diseases are curable and most related deaths could be prevented with timely access to appropriate and affordable medicines.

A diverse range of infectious and non-communicable diseases haunt the continent. Non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes are rapidly expanding their roots and are growing. According to the facts, 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. More and more number of drug manufacturing companies are collaborating and are building up joint ventures with the local African pharmacists. Associating with the local pharmacists not only provide a reliable source of information about the prevailing market trends and requirements, but also offers security to the business idea.

Not only the drug production rate, but Africa’s potential for pharmaceutical research and development is amongst the lowest in the world. The biggest determining factor of this low potential is the inadequate investments and funds availability in the pharmaceutical sector. Overall, 37 African countries have some pharmaceutical production, although only South Africa produces some active pharmaceutical ingredients. Furthermore, the poor access and affordability of medicines is combined by factors that include long lead times for international orders, infrastructure gaps such as poor logistics and storage capacity, as well as high transport and distribution costs. In addition, there has been scarce public finances and deficient public health procurement systems. It is estimated that there is scarcity of essential medicines both in the public and private sector. People are also often being forced to buy medicines that may not be certified. Africa has an alarming 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.

Many African governments spend a disproportionate amount of their scarce resources on procuring medicines. For instance, in 2006, Mali and Burundi, spent 2.3% and 2.9% of their GDP on such imports. Analyzing the recent trends, it could be clearly depicted that new health challenges, affecting the continent will generate more pressure for their demand. Non-communicable diseases, like heart disease, lung disorders, diabetes and cancer, are rising due to demographic and lifestyle changes. These conditions will soon account for half the deaths in Africa, surpassing those provoked by infectious disease. According to Timothy Oliver, a local drug wholesaler “The increasing pressure due to the inadequate quality and affordable medicines, the demand of quality and affordable medicines would certainly spike up. It would generate the endless growth opportunities for corporates and the potential investors, seeking to enter this domain.

The economic cost of a disease is well known for families and the national economies. According to the sources, the direct and indirect impact of malaria alone is estimated at $12 billion in annual African income. Local production of medicines is possible and has become crucial for the better quality healthcare and lifestyle of Africans. With economic growth projected to grow consistently and Africa’s determination for economic transformation, there is a huge market opportunity. Local manufacturing would create modern jobs, stimulate economic activities and many ways increase productivity.

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