Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Drug development

Making it local

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 12 May 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c2470
  1. Karen McColl, freelance journalist
  1. 1Savoie, France
  1. karenmccoll{at}

    Will African ambitions to build a strong domestic pharmaceutical sector improve desperately needed local access to drugs? Karen McColl weighs the evidence

    Africans need better access to medicines. Despite recent advances, up to half of the population still lacks access to essential medicines in some countries.1 During the World Health Assembly in Geneva next week (17-22 May), African health ministers will meet to discuss how they can work together to facilitate drug development, production, and access on the continent.

    The key to the continent’s future is economic and social development. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the idea of building a strong domestic pharmaceutical sector is appealing to African leaders. It is also easy to understand why they may look with some envy towards countries like India—which, in just a few years, has built up a reputation as the “pharmacy to the developing world.”2

    A new study has identified more than 120 initiatives and institutions involved in researching and developing cures for neglected diseases, producing and delivering medicines in Africa, or otherwise improving access to medicines in the continent.3 Most of these initiatives are being driven by international players. “In Africa, the agenda for drug development, production, procurement, and access to medicines is being largely defined by international programmes—a situation that would be unthinkable in other parts of the world,” explains Carel IJsselmuiden, director of the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), which produced the study jointly with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). “While these international programmes have helped a lot, African countries are now saying we want to take charge of our own situation.”

    Local action

    Although the contribution of these global health initiatives is recognised, there is increasing political momentum behind the idea of Africans themselves driving forward the agenda. The global strategy and plan …

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