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Strengthening Africa’s pharmaceutical industry: learning the lessons from COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted Africa´s vulnerability due to its reliance on imports for most vaccines, medicines and other health product needs. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that Africa imports about 94% of its pharmaceutical and medicinal needs from outside the continent at an annual cost of US$16bn.

High-level representatives of governments, development finance institutions and UN agencies, together with representatives of the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia, met virtually today on the margins of the 76th UN General Assembly to explore innovative solutions to the systemic barriers hindering development of the continent´s health industries and to discuss ways to strengthen Africa’s pharmaceutical industry.

The event was organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), AfroChampions, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) and the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank). The event took place in the framework of the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III).

In his opening remarks, LI Yong, Director General of UNIDO, said, “The African Continental Free Trade Area provides opportunities for the development of a continental health industry, while we need to continue to harness the strengths of different stakeholders and put in place robust partnerships.”

In a video message, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, stressed the importance of IDDA III and noted that inclusive and sustainable industrial development is critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Africa.

In his video message, Gerd Müller, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasized that three billion COVID-19 vaccines have been produced worldwide and need to be distributed fairly. He further mentioned that “Germany is supporting COVAX and the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator but also investing in cooperation with countries like South Africa, Senegal and Ghana to establish their own vaccine production facilities.”

Noting that investment is crucial for the promotion of local pharmaceuticals manufacturing in the continent, Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECA, acknowledged the lack of adequate funding within Africa as one of the continent’s enduring challenges.

Cristina Duarte, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General, opined that the coronavirus offers an opportunity for Africa to change its paradigm from being heavily dependent on imports to being self-reliant.

Ambassador Albert M. Muchanga, the African Union Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining, remarked that the IDDA III framework is crucial in supporting Africa meet its pharmaceutical needs and achieving the goals set in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA).

On behalf of Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB President, Dr. Abdu Mukhtar said that support from development financial institutions together with the private sector is crucial in supporting Africa’s industrial and sustainable development and countries need to be supported to expand their fiscal space during the ongoing pandemic.

Speaking on behalf of Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, AUDA-NEPAD’s CEO, Jennifer Chiriga noted that development partners need to actively promote human resource capacity and knowledge for the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector which requires highly skilled personnel.

 AfroChampions Co-Chair, Paulo Gomez, remarked that public-private partnerships need to be strengthened to promote structural transformation on the continent.

Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General for International Partnerships at the European Commission, remarked that the European Union’s €1bn Team Europe initiative on manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Africa, will help create an enabling environment for local vaccines manufacturing in the continent and tackle barriers on both supply and demand sides.

Prof. Stanley Okolo, Director General of the West African Health Organization, stressed that the pandemic presents the opportunity to reflect on the continuing challenges Africa continues to face in trying to improve the health of its population. “Governments and stakeholders must therefore resolve to strengthen national health systems and ensure that vaccines are readily available for the population”, he highlighted.

In her contribution to the first session, the President of Ethiopia, Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde emphasized the support of her Government for the implementation of the Decade and reaffirmed the crucial role of local manufacturing in its development efforts.

Speaking on behalf of His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, Her Excellency Betty Maina, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development opined that “to rebuild the health sector and boost the economy requires strong partnerships such as the PCP initiative, to lock in the investments and the FDI that will facilitate economies to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels”.

His Excellency Zely Randriamanantany, Minister of Public Health, touched on the importance of the continent’s demographic growth and the need to enhance the industrial skills and knowledge of the bulging youth population, in his statement on behalf of His Excellency Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar.

All speakers agreed that market consolidation, strong regulatory oversight, investments in the pharmaceutical sector and new technology (4IR) are of utmost importance to unlock Africa’s full manufacturing potential.

The event was capped by a signing ceremony of the Joint Declaration for the implementation of the Kenya Self-Starter Programme for Country Partnership, between the UNIDO DG and President Kenyatta.

In conclusion, participants acknowledged the need to expedite and support local production of pharmaceuticals and the health industry in Africa, as well as the importance of IDDA III and other frameworks such as the AfCFTA, and their potential impact to boost the manufacturing and trading of pharmaceuticals on the continent. They also called for inclusive and solution-oriented approaches to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

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Africa Today

Bringing dry land in the Sahel back to life

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Workers preparing tractors to start ploughing in Burkina Faso. ©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Millions of hectares of farmland are lost to the desert each year in Africa’s Sahel region, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is showing that traditional knowledge, combined with the latest technology, can turn arid ground back into fertile soil.

Those trying to grow crops in the Sahel region are often faced with poor soil, erratic rainfail and long periods of drought. However, the introduction of a state-of-the art heavy digger, the Delfino plough, is proving to be, literally, a breakthrough.

As part of its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought the Delfino to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut through impacted, bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a metre.

The Delfino plough is extremely efficient: one hundred farmers digging irrigation ditches by hand can cover a hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hooked to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is ploughed, the seeds of woody and herbaceous native species are then sown directly, and inoculated seedlings planted. These species are very resilient and work well in degraded land, providing vegetation cover and improving the productivity of previously barren lands. 

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plough. In Nigeria and Senegal, it is working to scale up the restoration of degraded land.

Farming seen through a half-moon lens

This technology, whilst impressive, is proving to be successful because it is being used in tandem with traditional farming techniques.

“In the end the Delfino is just a plough. A very good and suitable plough, but a plough all the same,” says Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

The half-moon is a traditional Sahel planting method which creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favourable micro-climate conditions allowing seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino creates large half-moon catchments ready for planting seeds and seedlings, boosting rainwater harvesting tenfold and making soil more permeable for planting than the traditional – and backbreaking – method of digging by hand.

“The whole community is involved and has benefitted from fodder crops such as hay as high as their knees within just two years”, says Mr. Sacande. “They can feed their livestock and sell the surplus, and move on to gathering products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine”.

Women taking the lead

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for the African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plough will also reduce the burden on women.

“The season for the very hard work of hand-digging the half-moon irrigation dams comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So, the work falls on the women,” says Ms. Berrahmouni.

Because the Delfino plough significantly speeds up the ploughing process and reduces the physical labour needed, it gives women extra time to manage their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s participation in local land restoration on a bigger scale, offering them leadership roles through the village committees that plan the work of restoring land. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to set up a village committee to manage the resources, so as to take ownership right from the beginning.

“Many women are running the local village committees which organise these activities and they are telling us they feel more empowered and respected,” offers Mr. Sacande.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that half-moon dams are the best way of harvesting rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is just making the job more efficient and less physically demanding.

Millions of hectares lost to the desert, forests under threat

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that over nine million hectares of land, once used for agriculture, is no longer viable for farming.

It is projected that degradation will continue to expand at 360 000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, forests are at risk of being cleared to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest every year for this reason, yet has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land viable for restoration. By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn into cropland for Africa’s rising population and growing food demands.

When Mr. Sacande talks about restoring land in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident. “Restoring degraded land back to productive good health is a huge opportunity for Africa. It brings big social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It’s a bulwark against climate change and it brings technology to enhance traditional knowledge.”

A version of this story first appeared on the FAO website.

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Africa Today

South Africa’s Covid-19 Response Gets a $750 Million Boost

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A volunteer carer called Trinity is working in a COVID-19 field hospital in Nasrec, Johannesburg. IMF/James Oatway

The World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors today approved South Africa’s request for a $750 million development policy loan (DPL). This loan will support the Government of South Africa’s efforts to accelerate its COVID-19 response aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable from the adverse socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and supporting a resilient and sustainable economic recovery.  

The DPL supports the implementation of South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) and is well aligned with the World Bank’s Crisis Response Approach aimed at protecting lives, livelihoods and supporting a more inclusive and resilient growth path. It reflects priorities to modernize the country’s social protection and health services and to improve delivery systems which will apply even beyond the pandemic. It also enhances financial sector stability, specifically the establishment of a deposit insurance scheme. It further supports South Africa’s commitment to climate change. 

“The World Bank budget support is coming at a critical time for us and will contribute towards addressing the financing gap stemming from additional spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis,” says Dondo Mogajane, Director General of National Treasury of South Africa. “It will assist in addressing the immediate challenge of financing critical health and social safety net programs whilst also continuing to develop our economic reform agenda to build back better.”  

The funding is a low interest loan that contributes to the government’s fiscal relief package while reinforcing South Africa’s decisions on how best to provide relief to the economy and those worst affected by the current crisis. The loan complements support by the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank, and the New Development Bank as part of the Government of South Africa’s broader financing strategy to access external financing from international financial institutions.  

“With this DPL, we have partnered with the government to provide much needed relief from the impacts of the most serious economic crisis South Africa has experienced in the past 90 years, while tackling long-standing challenges to growth and development. This support aims to put the country on a more resilient and inclusive growth path by leveraging South Africa’s strength to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis through their strong social safety net and by advancing critical economic reforms,” says Marie Françoise Marie Nelly, World Bank Country Director for South Africa. “This financing builds on our new World Bank Group Country Partnership Framework (CPF)  2022 – 2026, jointly developed with the government in July 2021, to help stimulate investment and job creation.” 

As the second largest economy in Africa, South Africa’s economic performance has spillover effects on other countries in the region. Its recovery and successful economic development will provide an economic boost to the whole region. 

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Africa Today

1.5 million children lack treatment for severe wasting in Eastern and Southern Africa

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photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

At least 1.5 million children are not receiving life-saving treatment for severe wasting in Eastern and Southern Africa, warned the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Friday. 

The number represents almost half of the estimated 3.6 million children in urgent need, who are not being reached in time to save their lives or keep them from permanent development damage.

For UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed M. Fall, “nothing is more devastating than seeing children suffering from severe wasting when we know it could have been prevented and treated.”

Mr. Fall highlights “some outstanding results and success stories”, thanks to the support of donors and partners, but says “the impacts of COVID19, climate change and conflict are creating the perfect storm where needs are quickly outpacing resources.”

For him, “the time to act is now.”

Crises pile up

Across the region, families are dealing with multiple crises, including rising levels of food insecurity, economic deterioration, disease outbreaks, unprecedented cycles of floods and droughts, and conflict.

Millions are having to reduce the quantity or quality of the food they eat in order to survive. In many cases, families are forced to do both.

For UNICEF, this is a looming and preventible tragedy that can, and must, be averted.

Prevention remains the best way to ensure that children survive, avoid permanent cognitive and physical damage, and evade the life-long suffering that results from childhood malnutrition.

With unhindered access and predictable funding, UNICEF believes it can work with partners to save the lives of nearly every child admitted for severe wasting.

The agency is asking for $255 million to scale up its emergency response in 2022. 

Countries in the spotlight

In Angola, where people are facing the consequences of the worst recorded drought in 40 years, UNICEF and partners managed to scale up its response in the most affected provinces (Cuando Cubango, Benguela, Namibe, Huíla and Cunene), with approximately 40 per cent more children treated in 2021 compared to 2020.

In Ethiopia, the country with the largest child population in the region, the agency and partners reached an estimated 500,000 severely wasted children in 2021, but many children in the war-torn north, still need of life-saving support. 

Across four regions, families are struggling for survival as a severe drought takes hold following three consecutive failed rainy seasons. According to the latest data, more than 6.8 million people in drought impacted areas will need urgent humanitarian assistance by mid-2022, many of them children.

In South Sudan, an estimated 1.4 million children under five, are acutely malnourished, including over 310,000 children suffering from severe wasting. 

Last year, UNICEF and partners treated more than 240,000 children, but the situation remains urgent, as floods have killed cattle, washed away food and fields, and blocked humanitarian access.

In Madagascar, where three years of consecutive droughts created one of the worst food insecurity and nutrition crisis in decades, UNICEF and partners last year helped avert a feared famine for many families in the southern part of the country.

UNICEF and partners reached almost double the number of children with treatment for severe wasting when compared to 2020. This is estimated to have saved the lives of at least 55,000 children under five years of age.

In Somalia, more than 255,000 children received treatment for severe wasting last year. With the country undergoing one of the worst droughts ever recorded and suffering from continued violence, 1.3 million children under five, are likely to suffer from wasting this year.

In Kenya, at least 65,000 children were reached in 2021 with treatment services for severe wasting. Right now, an estimated 2.8 million people are food insecure, with 565,044 children suffering wasting -123,000 severely so – and the situation is expected to deteriorate further.

Finally, in Mozambique, insecurity continues to have a negatively impact. Last year, some 38,000 children received treatment for severe wasting, up from 10,000 the year before. 

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