Ethiopia to See Potential Chinese Pharma Investment

A delegation of 10 Chinese companies has visited Ethiopia to determine feasibility of investment

A delegation of 10 major Chinese pharmaceutical and medical supplies companies visited Ethiopia from October 20 to 21 as part of a UN facilitated initiative which may see them partnering with local companies to manufacture drugs, including those for the treatment of cancer. The initiative is also intended to transfer knowledge and technology.

Through an arrangement brokered between the “China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products” and UNAIDS China, the delegation met with top Ethiopian government officials, including the Prime Minister’s Adviser, Arkebe Oqubay (PHD). The delegates also visited various industrial parks, including the site at Kilinto and the Eastern Industrial Zone at Dukem, as well as Julphar, the U.A.E.- based pharmaceutical company with operations in Ethiopia. Xu Ming, head of the delegation and vice president of the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products, said the visit was intended to determine the feasibility of setting up manufacturing plants in Ethiopia, not only for drugs but also medical equipment.

The potential Chinese investment in Ethiopia will take place in three phases. During the first phase, the companies will produce basic essential drugs, such as those for cancer, strictly for the local market. During the second phase, the focus will be on a wider range of products as well as targeting the export market. In the third and final phase, the Chinese companies will conduct knowledge and skills transfer to their Ethiopian counterparts to support the local pharma industry, Xu Ming added.

Although no exact time frame was given for the investment, Catherine Sozi (MD), director at UNAIDS China, said she expects the execution to occur ‘very quickly’. After their visit here, the Chinese delegation will conduct a similar assessment in Kenya and then finally have an internal review meeting during which they will make their decisions.

Sozi bemoaned the state of AIDS treatment in many African countries, asking why the countries with the largest AIDS burdens have the least access to necessary drugs. One of the companies in the delegation, Desano, is the largest producer of ARVs in China and if they decide to set up a factory in Ethiopia, the cost for generic AIDS drugs would be reduced significantly, she said.

Currently, the local industry provides only 20pc of the so-called “essential drugs”, which the government is required to keep in stock in hospitals and procure from local suppliers only. An expert, whose name is being withheld on request, said they asked the Chinese delegation to help provide the remaining 80pc, as well as more technologically advanced products such as those in biotechnology and vaccines.

Ming told Fortune that all the projects will be conducted in the form of joint ventures with Ethiopian companies, in recognition of the Ethiopian government’s efforts to make manufacturing and the pharma industry stronger performers during the next five years of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II).

Sozi stressed that though this is the first such delegation from China to visit an African country, the overall plan, as envisioned by UNAIDS chief, Michel Sidibey; WHO Director General, Margaret Chan; and Head of the UN Industrial Development Organization, Li Yong, is to ensure that Africa has a sustainable supply of medicine. This is related to the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic in the continent by 2030, providing the 21 million Africans without access to ARV’s with the drugs and supporting the African Union’s Pharmaceutical Plan of Action. But drugs are not the only issue. The continent is reportedly in desperate need of basic medical supplies. As of 2015, most African countries still imported mosquito nets, condoms and IV drips. The trip that the Chinese delegation has made to Ethiopia is in line with efforts to change the state of the African, and Ethiopian, pharmaceutical industry us, making them better able to meet local demand.


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