EXCLUSIVE EU, Gates Foundation to support African medicines agency -source
BRUSSELS, Feb 11 (Reuters) – The European Union and the Gates Foundation are set to announce a package of financial support for the nascent efforts to set up an African medicines regulator in a bid to boost the continent’s drugs and vaccine production, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency (AMA) came into force in November but the agency currently exists only on paper. Decisions over who will lead the agency and where it will be headquartered are scheduled for this year.
Financial and technical support to the new agency is seen as crucial to help it to begin operations. This in turn would be a boost for the continent’s vaccine and drugs industry, which needs a trusted regulator to flourish.
The European Commission, Germany, France, Belgium, and the Gates Foundation will invest more than 100 million euros ($113.93 million) to support AMA and African national regulatory agencies, a person familiar with the plan told Reuters on Friday.
The goal is to allow these agencies to achieve what the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as Maturity Level 3 for vaccine producing, which is “the minimum WHO requirement for effective regulatory oversight for quality local vaccine production,” the official said.
According to an internal EU Commission document with slides, seen by Reuters, part of the money will be in grants and will also go to the European Medicines Agency.
EMA, which is the only continent-wide drugs regulator so far will “provide technical assistance to African counterparts via scientific collaboration, joint inspections, training, and notably the AMA,” the document says.
The race to establish the AMA comes after the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the region’s dependence on imported vaccines and other pharmaceuticals. 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. Deliveries to the continent later picked up, but just 10% of Africans are fully vaccinated.
Efforts are now underway to increase production but a regulator is necessary to approve drugs.
Preparing for future pandemics is only one reason a continental regulator is crucial for Africa, experts say.
Disparate regulations across 54 countries, and scant transparency, have led some pharmaceutical companies to drop efforts to register their products, leading to limited availability of important medicines in many African nations.
A lack of stringent oversight has enabled counterfeit drugs to flood African markets, in some cases causing needless deaths and fuelling scepticism of medicine.
The EU’s push to support the new regulator is part of a broad strategy to check China and Russia for influence in Africa, bloc officials in Brussels told Reuters. Brussels has donated hundreds of millions of COVID-19 doses to Africa in the past year.
($1 = 0.8777 euros)
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in Dakar, Michel Rose in Paris, Ludwig Berger in Berlin, and Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa Additional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick Editing by Louise Heavens and James Macharia Chege