New Local Pharmaceutical Plant Expected To Enhance Access To Drugs In Kenya

Kenya’s pharmaceutical products manufacturing sector is hopeful it will experience significant growth after the Square Pharmaceuticals ltd (SPL) of Bangladesh commissioned a US$ 75 million plant in the East African nation this week. [A reminder: this story, like all of our stories, is completely free for almost every developing country in the world. Just sign up for a free password here!]

The plant to be located at the country’s Athi River Export Processing Zone (EPZ), some 30 kilometers south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, will be run by Square Pharmaceuticals Kenya EPZ and will produce generic medicines.

Square Pharmaceuticals officials and representatives of the Kenyan government, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Kenya and financial partners at the site where the pharmaceutical manufacturing plant at Kenya ’s Athi River Export Processing Zone (EPZ) will be located.

The plant was commissioned on 8 January. It is the first to be constructed by SPL outside Bangladesh in its 60-year history and will start operations in 2020.

The launch event was attended by: Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Industry and Trade; Abulkalam Muhammad Humayon Kabir, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Kenya; Tapan Chowdhury, Managing Director, Square Pharmaceuticals; and representatives of the World Bank, local banks and Kenya’s Ministry of Health.

Square Pharmaceuticals officials and representatives of the Kenyan government, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Kenya and financial partners in a meeting at Kenya ’s Athi River Export Processing Zone (EPZ) offices.

The plant is expected to minimise Kenya’s dependency on imported pharmaceutical product imports and reduce the cost of drugs. Jacinta Wasike, Director, Inspection, Surveillance and Enforcement at the Kenya Pharmacy and Poisons Board, said at the launch that the country now has 35 pharmaceutical companies. But locally manufactured drugs account for only 28 percent, with the remainder being imports.

Indeed, the commissioning of a state-of-the-art, capital-intensive plant capable of producing large quantities of medicine owned by a company from the global South in another developing has a strong sense of symbolism. The plant will be capable of manufacturing two billion tablets and capsules and 60 million bottles of liquid formulations annually.

Not lost on observers is that it signifies a new era in a sector dominated by western multinationals that enjoy intellectual property protection courtesy of strong patent laws as well as huge capital base.

“Our plan is to expand our supply to Europe and America from this plant,” revealed Chowdhury.

Already, Square Pharmaceutical supplies medicines to regulated markets in Europe and America. Chowdhury is optimistic that the facility will tackle the unmet needs of medicine in the East African market and beyond.

Tapan Chowdhury, Square Pharmaceuticals managing director, planting a tree at the site where the pharmaceutical manufacturing plant will be located.

Out of the projected company’s US$ 75 investment, a total of US$ 25 million will be spent during the first phase. A total of 500 Kenyans are expected to be employed during the first phase with more job openings projected to emerge after the completion of the second and third phase.

Chowdhury said the venture will enhance technology transfer,as it will involve training Kenyan graduates on pharmaceutical dosage forms, operation of production machines and laboratory equipment. Training will also focus on good manufacturing, laboratory and distribution practices.

Kenya and its neighbours have a high HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis burden. But according to the Ministry of Health, non-communicable diseases are set to be a major cause of death by 2030. “Our aim is to enable Kenyans to access latest drugs for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and anti-psychotic diseases within five years after debut of manufacturing,” said Chowdhury.

KhamaRogo, Lead Health Specialist at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank Group, said Kenya is experiencing a high population growth with a corresponding disease burden. “Universal health care can’t be attained without large-scale manufacturing of pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Chowdhury added that the investment will open a new window of revenue in terms of dividends, royalties and selling of tech know-how. SPL exports pharmaceutical products to 42 countries including Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Its exports to Kenya started in 2005 and it has registered 117 products with Kenya’s Pharmacy & Poison Board, and the local drug regulatory agency of Kenya.

No IP Protection Needed

Square’s Tapan Chowdhury speaks after the groundbreaking at the site.

He said they will not be seeking intellectual property protection in Kenya because they intend to manufacture generic versions of drugs that are already off patent and whose original versions are also not patented in Kenya.

“The drugs that we intend to manufacture are branded generics that are on the World Health Organization pre-qualified drugs list such that they are part of drugs the organisation has listed for treating priority diseases,” Chowdhury told Intellectual Property Watch.

According to Adan, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Industry and Trade, the construction of a local pharmaceutical company, apart from lowering the cost of drugs, will increase access to genuine drugs given that the country faces the challenge of counterfeits.

He said Kenya currently imports medicines worth USD 600 million annually. Adan also noted that the government intends to review the quality of imported drugs to ensure they meet set standards so as to weed out counterfeits and patent rights violations.


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