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  • Transforming the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Ghana (I)
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    Louis Nortey, Pharmaceutical Sector Consultant

    The pharmaceutical manufacturing sector (PMS) is recognized for its potential for job creation, improvement in household incomes, investment opportunities, industrial growth and advanced skills set development to mention just but a few. However, despite the relatively long period of operations of the industry in the country, the sector has always been punching below its weight in most areas.

    Even those investors already in the sector are trying to dis-invest, either looking for new buyers or looking to other markets to make up. The sector is situated in a fundamentally imperfect market, so predictability is a strong challenge; businesses abhor uncertainties. This is further compounded by unavailability of data for the sector. Attempts to gather data are always a big problem just like any other sector of the economy. Since investors will not invest in the dark, the sector is not able to attract the needed support and investments required. Indeed, this is also a sector which has high capital requirements and requires long-term investments; ten years in my estimation to expect meaningful returns.

    The FDA is required to receive data on production and sales from the sector players at the end of each year but this is not provided. Usually data provided is not complete, scanty or inadequate and not from all the sector players. So it becomes impossible to get an aggregate data for the sector for policy and investment decisions.

    There have been attempts by UNIDO (non-commercial) and IMS (commercial) to address this challenge with the sector data to improve visibility in the sector for the manufacturers, investors, decision makers, industrialists as well as public health officials but progress is very slow indeed. No wonder, Vice President Dr Bawumia lamented bitterly about lack of data in the economy recently at a lecture at Kempeski Hotel. As an economist and Chairman of the Economic Management team I would expect him to prioritize data collection in all sectors of the economy during his tenure in office to facilitate transformation of the economy.

    The availability of development finance is a big challenge in the economy. EDIF to EDAIF and now to Exim Bank as well as EBID (ECOWAS) are public development finance institutions (DFI) in the country. The development partners also have some DFIs in their domain to assist with investments but the volatile exchange rate does not make any foreign denominated investment attractive. There is a need for more cedi denominated DFIs to facilitate the deployment of long term financial instruments in the sector and the economy.

    Apart from Ghana and Nigeria, there are no meaningful pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in ECOWAS. Pharmaceutical products from Ghana are held in high esteem in ECOWAS to be of good quality due to the good reputation of the regulator, FDA in the ECOWAS. The ECOWAS markets therefore are there for the taking if the bottlenecks of product registration, fees and distribution (harassment by security personnel through land areas and at the borders) are addressed.

    The introduction of health insurance schemes across the ECOWAS are increasing access to healthcare and broadening the healthcare market to support pharmaceutical manufacturing. If the ECOWAS countries will abide by the Abuja Declaration which mandates the ECOWAS countries to use 15% of their GDP for total health expenditure annually is adhered to, there could also be a shot in the arm for the transformation. 

    The sector needs specialize skills set which is not easily available because our pharmacy tertiary training institutions do not train the technologists in adequate numbers. The technologists are usually obtained from India or the local ones are given on- the- job training. The product range of the local manufacturers are not wide enough so an on- the- job training will not provide much in terms of depth and scope. Nevertheless, the pharmacy training institutions can be assisted to fill this gap by offering the training programs required for accelerated products development for transformation.

    The PMS has always been touted has a priority sector in the economy but one is at a loss has to what is there to make it a priority. Transformation of the sector to realize its full potential can be achieved if the favorable political will can be used to facilitate access to reliable data, the ECOWAS markets, availability of long term patient/low interest rate capital, sustainable skills set development and restructuring of the sector.