The pharmaceuticals market in Africa is projected to hit US$45-60 billion by 2020 from US$20.8 billion in 2013, from just US$4.7 billion in 2003, according to the research company Frost & Sullivan. Africa’s pharmaceuticals market is the fastest growing region in the World, propelled by a convergence of rising economic profiles, rapid urbanisation, increased healthcare spending and investment, and increasing incidence of chronic lifestyle diseases.

The rapid adoption of Western lifestyles and eating habits has made Africa one of the region’s with the fastest growth in non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, even as its tropical climate and poor healthcare infrastructure continue to place a heavy burden on its population as a number of disease remain a huge challenge in the Continent: malaria, cholera, meningitis, TB, HIV/AIDS, polio, measles, influenza, yellow fever etc.

The fast growth of the pharmaceuticals industry in Africa has attracted multinationals and local companies to set up manufacturing and distribution infrastructure in African countries as they seek to tap into the region’s growth story.

Within the sector, there has been an emergence of pharmacy chains, horizontal and vertical integration is on the rise, and manufacturing is expanding. Africa has also become a play ground for mergers and acquisitions by companies from Indian and other regions, while joint ventures, strategic alliances, partnerships, and private-equity deals are becoming common in many African markets.

Safety and supply gaps are huge in Africa

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), weak local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity means that Africa largely depends on imported medicines, with about 79% of all pharmaceuticals in Africa imported.

The agency says that local manufacturing, which will eventually lead to better access and pricing to desperately needed medicines, is hindered by poor quality assurance systems, with only a handful of manufacturers meeting the global standards of local manufacturing, as laid out by the WHO.

The regulatory environment is also affected by the region’s 54 countries, which despite their small sizes, continue to place a strain for manufacturers due to differences in market size, growth potential, macroeconomic landscape, legal and regulatory structure and political complexities.

Regional harmonisation of standards, operational and consolidation of markets remain critical focus areas to ensure that the potential in Africa can be tapped in this sector, advices the WHO.