The journey from manufacturing tablets to vaccines  

Lucia Addae, Executive Secretary PMAG

… 30 years of drug manufacturing

The nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry seems to have attracted the most attention last year, since its existence, due to the advent of COVID-19. But the sector has served the nation for 30 years, providing essential drugs not only to take care of citizens but also to feed the sub-region. The sector through hard work and conforming to top standards has become a key player on the continent as medicine from Ghana is held in high repute globally.

It has been documented that, several members of the nation’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector started from doing retail business, which means they set up a pharmacy providing over the counter medicines and sometimes prescription medicines. They did that for a while and saw the potential in manufacturing and saved, looked for partnership and diverted into it.

Thirty years on, from 6 companies the sector has grown and now has 49 medium and large-scale companies and about 100 small scale manufacturers. Sadly, some of the pioneers are either struggling today or have folded up. Their story may have been different with some little state support then.

Drugs manufactured locally

The sector has moved from doing several over the counter medicines including the folic acids, paracetamols, aspirins, paraffin combinations, to very advanced ones like the infusions, complicated molecules and has positioned itself to manufacture vaccines. The sector at its advanced stage today is preparing to move into the manufacturing of anti-rabies, anti-snake and anti-scorpion medicines among others.

The size of the sector

The Executive Secretary of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Ghana (PMAG), Lucia Addae told the paper in an interview that, the sector has had a study growth over the years: “It is estimated that the sector is worth at an average of 700 million dollars and that has grown over the years because it was about 300 million dollars some time ago.

The local manufacturing industry was doing 30 percent of the size of the sector but we have grown and are at about 35 percent of the 700 million dollars. Some people may say we are even higher than that because the future looks bright for us and because of all the things that we are engaging government, including the manufacture of vaccines whether COVID related or non-COVID related. I’d say that it’s work in progress. We have a lot of work to do but we need to take it one day at a time.

So yes, the size of the market has grown and we are hoping it can even grow further with the strengthening of the ECOWAS harmonization policies and framework. Also, with AfCFTA we would have more growth come to the industry” Mrs Addae said.

Government support

She mentioned that even though the sector is wishing for more support from government they benefited from some initiatives introduced by successive governments: “We have to be grateful to successive governments for all the necessary policies that they have given us in the past years, markets that they have guaranteed for us and several other incentives that they have given to us which include the tax exemptions.

We received some support from EXIM bank and we thank them, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Finance, FDA, Standards Authority, they’ve all been very helpful. I think that even though so much has been done there is so much more that needs to be done and it doesn’t have to happen in a vacuum; We need to ensure that the efforts are actually very concise and comprehensive and saying that it means the support has to be timely.”

She added that: “If government gives me money today to manufacture at a good rate and I manufacture medicines supply to government and government doesn’t pay me on time it defeats the purpose. We can move from 35 to 70 percent share of the sector with a little more concise attention from government. Provision of cheap funds, more friendly policies and assured/timely paying markets.

With the policies, it has to be a strong will from government to give the sector policies that would accelerate growth. As with the automobile industry, we need that same will. We need to sit and talk and come up with timelines.”

She is hopeful that in the coming years the sector would site with major groups like the Ghana Association of Bankers and strike MOUs for mutual financial benefit.

Sub-Regional influence

The sector has had a great influence on the sub-region, guiding, supporting and motivating other firms in other countries to go into the manufacturing of medicines. Apart from that, the sector supplies to countries in and out the regional bloc.

“Over the 30 years, it is important that we be able to motivate several other countries to start manufacturing we’ve had some partnerships with some of the countries and some countries which don’t even have manufacturing plants. We’ve been able to supply to them extensively. Even in these COVID times. We’ve also realized we’ve supported several countries to be able to maintain some decency or some medicine security and so we’ve grown in that regard.

Today we’ve penetrated 10 African countries; even though Nigeria has more facilities we still supply medicines to them. We do Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Gambia and some parts of Senegal.  We have penetrated and worked very hard over the years” Mrs Addae said.

Potential of the sector

According to a report by Goodman AMC, the nation’s pharmaceutical market is made up of approximately 30 percent locally produced drugs and 70 percent imported products; the latter originating mainly from India and China.

In 2005, the total market was estimated at USD 250 million at retail price level in Ghana and with the assumption that a growth rate of 6-8 percent (drug expenditure tends to grow above overall economic growth) the total market size was estimated to have been around the range of USD 300 million.

Another factor driving growth has been the introduction of health insurance in Ghana, measurably increasing utilization of health care facilities; more patients mean more prescriptions.

Ghana is positioned to also play a key role in driving and accelerating pharma growth in Africa. Underestimating the pharmaceutical industry in Ghana could lead to loss of revenue to most big pharma.

Even though, the local pharma sector in Ghana has a very effective large supply and distribution chain systems that provide efficacious medicines across most of West Africa and parts of sub-Saharan Africa and are also available to all income levels, the nations’s drug manufacturing sector is grappling with how to improve its capacity. For example, industry commentators suggest that out of 3,000 drugs registered by Ghana’s Food and Drugs Board (FDB) only 900 are produced locally.

Ghana presently serves as the regional hub for pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution to the over 300 million people who live within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). There is still room for lots of growth in Ghana’s pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Even though most factories in Ghana are not operating at full capacity, Ghana’s pharmaceutical exports to other countries in the region are valued because of high quality. This industry has many advantages for investors, such as a sound structure in place and access to a large and in-need market.

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