ZIMBAMBWE – Zimbabwe’s pharmaceutical industry continues to import critical medicines such as anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) as the sector faces low levels of production despite the country having ability to produce these drugs, a factor towards recessive poverty waning.

Giving oral evidence to the Thematic Portfolio Committee on HIV/Aids Monday, Industry Ministry secretary Mavis Sibanda revealed local manufacturers’ production of drugs was only US$31.5 million while US$213 million worth of medicines were imported annually.

The pharmaceutical market size of Zimbabwe is estimated at US$244.5 million while local manufacturers produce only US$31.5 million worth of products while the remaining is imported,” she told the committee.

The major challenge facing the local pharmaceutical industry is the low levels of production where the industry accounts for only 12% of the medicines which are consumed locally whilst 88% are imported.

However, the top ministry officials added another challenge facing the pharmaceutical industry was that the process of importing drugs was lengthy and cumbersome.

A while back, the government launched the pharmaceutical manufacturing strategy for Zimbabwe 2021-2025, which runs under the theme; “Enhancing productivity and competitiveness of the Zimbabwe pharmaceutical industry.”

The strategy targets to increase the market share of local pharmaceutical products from the current 12% to 35% by 2025.

The strategy is also targeted at increasing the local production of essential medicines from 30% to 60% by 2025 while sales revenue of local production will increase from US$31.5 million to US$150 million during the same period.

As a means to boost the scope for investment, the government committed to buy the locally-produced consumables and will not import what can be produced locally.

Recently, the government engaged Varichem Pharmaceuticals with a view of resuscitating local manufacturing of ARVs.

Varichem Pharmaceuticals was the first company to manufacture ARVs in Africa in 2006 although the drugs could not be used due to changes in formula leading to the halting of the production.

Local manufacture will reduce the burden of cost due to importation of commodities, avail medical supplies conveniently as well as create jobs for citizens, a move that will propel the country’s fight against abject poverty.

Extreme poverty in Zimbabwe rose to 49 % in 2020 due to the disruption caused on the national economy by Covid-19, coupled with inadequacies in terms of social protection, the latest World Bank report has established.

In a document entitled, Zimbabwe Economic Update, it is observed that the number of extremely poor citizens rose to 7.9 million, adding 1.3 million more people into the already existing poverty bracket in 2020.

The survey shows that nearly half a million Zimbabwean households have at least one member who lost his or her job, plunging many into poverty, while also worsening the plight of the existing poor.

The pandemic also put pressure on strained public resources, the report notes, exacerbating implementation challenges while severely affecting service delivery in health, education and social protection.