Interview: Vimal Patel

In what ways can the pharmaceutical industry help support the Big Four agenda?

VIMAL PATEL: Local producers are in a unique position to support the agenda’s manufacturing and health care pillars. There is a proven correlation between the promotion of local manufacturing, increases in the availability of medicines and lower health care costs. This can boost employment and strengthen value-added manufacturing as well. In order for that to occur, the state needs to better coordinate with the private sector in utilising tools like incentives and import tariffs to create a more favourable legal framework for local producers.

How can public-private partnerships (PPPs) improve existing production standards?

PATEL: In Kenya, PPPs are difficult to implement. These relationships involve equal contributions from both sides, which is challenging to bring about in Kenya, due to the big gap between the cultures of the private and the public sectors. However, local pharmaceutical companies, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board and the UN Industrial Development Organisation have cooperated among themselves to share best practices and establish quality standards as per the World Health Organisation for the medicines that they manufacture.

Which recent developments are driving innovative practices among pharmaceutical businesses?

PATEL: Quality is the bedrock of health care generally and pharmaceuticals particularly, and technology is the future of quality assurance. Digitisation reduces intermediation margins by over 50%, extends our reach to rural areas and increases affordability by bridging the gap between producers and end users. Data collection and analysis make it possible to tailor products to market demands: people in the field tell doctors their needs, and producers design the right medicines accordingly. In terms of sales, data also facilitates the creation of treatments targeting particular segments.

What needs to be addressed to boost the value-added element in pharmaceutical production?

PATEL: The creation of a value chain is crucial to the industry’s growth: it increases tax revenue, drives hiring and multiplies purchasing power, while imports do not bring these gains. Therefore, we expect that the government will offer incentives to local manufacturers. Other countries that produce goods of a certified calibre – such as India, Bangladesh and Morocco – have imposed tariffs or bans on the import of substitute products which are produced locally; Kenya, however, has not yet taken this necessary step.

What steps must be taken to ensure the authenticity of pharmaceutical products?

PATEL: If you want to better control the substance, then products should be made in one’s own country. It would be ideal to draft a list of essential medicines, facilitate local production and stop shipping them in from overseas at a higher cost for patients. It would be additionally helpful to more effectively check quality standards in the local manufacturing companies than overseas, due to the present resource constraints.

How do you assess the competitiveness of the sector in relation to the region?

PATEL: In 2015 pharmaceuticals exported from the EAC were valued at $84m and Kenya’s exports alone totalled $71.2m. That figure demonstrates the competitive maturity of Kenya’s industry. At the same time, while our producers sell more units than the imported ones, Kenyan sales make up only 30% of the total value, which indicates that the profit margin is mainly in imported products, making the goal of universal health coverage less achievable. Kenya is in a great position – owing to its geography and its skilled population – and the implementation of the right policy changes would equip the country with the tools to become a crucial logistical centre for regional pharmaceutical development.