India, China challenge big pharmaceutical companies in Africa

India, China challenge big pharmaceutical companies in Africa

The pool of pharmaceutical companies with an interest in African markets is certainly on the rise. Many Western firms have been active on the continent for decades, although there was something of a temporary retreat during the late 1980s, following years of economic stagnation and armed conflict in many countries. Neil Ford reports.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck, Sanofi-Aventis and others are now able to build on their established positions to market their products to Africa’s growing middle classes.

It is obviously in the financial interests of such companies to promote the attractiveness of branded drugs and indeed there is a certain pharmaceutical brand-snobbery among more prosperous Africans in some countries.

Some of the global giants, such as GSK, manufacture drugs within Africa but others are loath to decentralise their production process, partly because of fears over quality control.

Perhaps the best-known development in African pharmaceuticals over the past 20 years has been the emergence of Indian generics. A massive 17.7% of all African pharmaceutical imports by value came from India in 2011, the latest year for which accurate data are available, in comparison with just 4.1% from China.

Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant DG of WHO Health Systems and Innovation.

However, both countries have increased their share of the continental African market every year over the past decade and look set to strengthen their positions further over the next few years.

Some Chinese pharmaceutical companies have gained contracts through the construction of new hospitals by Chinese firms, while competition between Indian companies active on the continent, including Cipla, Dr Reddy’s, Ranbaxy and the Serum Institute, helps to keep prices low.

Many Indian manufacturers have set up subsidiaries in African countries, manufacturing a large proportion of their African supplies on the continent itself. They have secured such a large market share by supplying HIV-AIDs ARVs and other drugs that are needed on a mass scale by NGOs; and have benefited from securing World Health Organisation approval.

Nigeria now the biggest export market for Indian pharmaceuticals, generated $384m for the year to the end of September

However, it remains to be seen whether Indian firms will continue to specialise in the production of generics. Many are now developing their own drugs, particularly in the biotechnology sector, and in the longer term they could be keen to take on the US, UK, Swiss, French and German companies at their own game. This could open up opportunities for manufacturing in other countries, including in Africa.

It is interesting that the Pharmaceutical Export Council of India (Pharmexcil) has chosen Lagos as the location of IPHEX (the International Exhibition for Pharma and Healthcare), its first ever exhibition outside India. Nigeria now the biggest export market for Indian pharmaceuticals, generated $384m for the year to the end of September, while more than 35 Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing, distribution and importations companies operate in Nigeria.

In a statement, Pharmexcil explained: “The Indian presence in Nigeria will be advantageous for members to explore opportunities in other African countries. Members are already aware of Pharmexcil’s initiative to open a warehouse in Nigeria with support of members and Ministry of Commerce, government of India.” It added: “The embassies and missions of India abroad are making all efforts to promote IPHEX and suggest good business prospects.” Apart from private sector companies, regulators from a number of African countries are expected to attend.

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