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Chinese tie-ups healthy for Africa

By Lucie Morangi | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2015-12-20 11:00

Partnerships seen as a way to ensure growing nations still have access to affordable medicine

Africans, and the continent's health sector, stand to gain immensely from partnerships with Chinese pharmaceutical companies, participants in a recent international health conference in Nairobi said.

Such ventures could boost the continent's fledgling production capacity, helping ensure access to sustainable supplies of affordable and safe drugs, they said.

This option comes at a time when African countries are seeking innovative ways to cushion their economic growth from the ballooning costs of essential drugs such as antiretroviral HIV/AIDS drugs. According to UNAIDS, 90 percent of the medicine used is imported.

The partnerships were proposed as one of the long-term solutions by participants attending an event hosted by Kenya's Ministry of Health at the 10th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Kenya.

The event, attended by Kenyan Cabinet Minister for Industrialization Adan Mohamed, together with health and trade officials from other African countries, was held to address fears that African countries that have attained middle income status such as Kenya might not have access to cheap drugs provided under the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The agreement, signed in 1995, saw the price of generic antiretroviral drugs fall from $12,000 per person per year to $200 per person per year.

This gives the so-called least developed countries an exception to patent barriers, allowing them to acquire medicines such as first-line antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS at low cost. Kenya updated its economic status in 2010 after changing its GDP calculation.

"Kenya's capacity to manufacture pharmaceutical products is still limited. TRIPS, signed by a majority of WTO member states, ensured that the country gets a predictable supply of these drugs," Mohamed says.

Director of the National AIDS Control Council, Nduku Kilonzo, says Chinese investors have expressed interest in partnership deals with their Kenyan counterparts in the pharmaceutical sector. Two months ago a delegation was in the country.

"Opportunities exist in the whole value chain," Kilonzo says, emphasizing that this would line up with the goals of China-Africa cooperation. "In the just-concluded Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, improving Africa's public health was one of the goals spelled out. This is an ideal scenario where partnership between the two members will yield immeasurable benefits to Africa," she says.

She points out that Africa imports the entire line of ingredients needed in the manufacture of the generic drug. "This is therefore a greenfield investment opportunity for Chinese investors," she says.

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