AFRICA – Africa is set to receive funding of over €100M (US$113.4 million) in the next five years from investors to set up an African Medicines Agency (AMA) to boost the continent’s drugs and vaccine production.

The funding for the African medicines regulator will be led by European Union (EU) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit that plays a major role in global health, with participation from Germany, France and Belgium.

The EU recently asserted that it would mobilize €150 billion (US$170.38B) for Africa in the coming years as part of its global investment strategy which includes the funding to AMA.

A treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency came into force but the agency currently exists only on paper as just over half of the 55 African Union member states have approved the treaty setting up the regulator,” the EU Commission said in a statement.

Some 21 countries have now ratified the African Medicines Agency treaty beyond the 15 ratifications reached in November 2021 which allowed the AMA treaty instrument to formally take effect.

All in all, that makes for a total of 30 African countries that are formally on board with the treaty through signature, ratification or both while 25 nations still remain uncommitted.

The 25 countries that have not yet signed the treaty include most of Africa’s population and economic powerhouses such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The race to establish AMA comes after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the region’s dependence on imported vaccines and other pharmaceuticals.

For instance, just over 5% of medicines and 1% of vaccines consumed by the population of 1.2 billion people are produced locally.

Africa initially struggled to get COVID-19 vaccine doses as rich countries snapped up limited supplies, however, deliveries to the continent later picked up with just 10% of Africans being fully vaccinated.

Therefore, a trusted regulator is crucial for the development of pharmaceutical products in Africa.

EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said the investors are trying to support African partners so that they could produce 60% of the vaccines they use by 2040.

The announcement comes ahead of a summit between the European Union and African Union leaders when the EU is expected to reaffirm its commitment for a €150 billion (US$170.38B) investment package in Africa.

Strengthening health systems and immunization capacities of the African continent is at the center of our work,” the EU Commission statement further outlined.

Furthermore, the next step in transforming the AMA from a treaty to an actual institution is to decide on a host country for the agency’s headquarters.

Head of the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization Initiative at AUDA-NEPAD, the African Union’s Development agency, Margaret Ndomondo-Sigonda disclosed that the AU Assembly decided to do an assessment of the countries that have offered to host the AMA headquarters.

The AU Commission and AUDA-NEPAD are working together, and the teams are set to go out in the first week of March,” said Ndomondo-Sigonda

She further stated that the country visits might take two months to complete assessment.

Once they are done, then the assessment report will be presented before the first meeting of the Conference of the State Parties that is planned to be held sometime in May,” added Margaret.

Consequently, the decision made at the conference will have to go to the AU Assembly during its meeting in June or July.

We will know which African country will be hosting the headquarters for the African Medicines Agency before end of July,” she confirmed.

The appointment of the head of AMA namely its director general will take a little longer because the Conference of the State Parties would have to consider the terms of reference for the position at its May meeting and advertisements will only go out after that.

AMA’s good leadership could help speed access to medicines by conducting reviews and issuing recommendations on new treatments which could take countries longer to tackle individually.

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