Interview: Habib Bennaceur
What medium-term effects will the new limitations on imports of pharmaceuticals have?
HABIB BENNACEUR: The key impact of the measures to reduce imports will be an acceleration in the local production of pharmaceuticals. They may also motivate firms that have so far been hesitant to make the investments necessary to produce locally. These new regulations should serve to strengthen the industrial fabric of the country.
Since I began working in Algeria’s pharmaceutical industry in 2002, every minister of health that has served has sought to increase local production, with the clear goal of manufacturing 70% of products locally. Efforts to limit imports are not new and many examples of incentives exist. The green corridor, for instance, allows companies that produce locally to obtain the necessary authorisations to place their products on the market in an expedited fashion. A number of companies, including AstraZeneca, have thus built local manufacturing plants or produce medicines that are up to international standards and 100% made in Algeria. Price incentives are also in place to encourage distribution of locally produced medicines. Talk of the import reductions leading to shortages is unfounded. There may be some disruption, but no patients will lack access to vital medications.
How has the rise in chronic diseases affected the pharmaceutical sector?
BENNACEUR: Algeria has made great progress in curbing infectious diseases through vaccination programmes. However, certain non-communicable diseases have emerged. We have long been hearing of an epidemiological transition, linked to a demographic transition. The population is still quite young and does not have the same age pyramid as Western countries do. Nonetheless, there are notable changes, such as fewer births, later ages for giving birth and improved longevity. With more people living longer, we are seeing more cases of cancer, cardiac diseases and Alzheimer’s.
The biggest challenge will be to promote prevention. There are measures in place to raise awareness concerning smoking, poor diets and physical inactivity. For instance, given that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the single largest driver of deaths from non-communicable diseases worldwide and many tens of millions more non-fatal cardiovascular events (including heart attacks and strokes), CVD is, therefore, a major global public health priority. Preventative measures based around various agents, including cholesterol-lowering, anti-hypertensive, anti-platelet drugs, healthy diet and sports practice, can reduce this goal.
How can investments be encouraged further, especially in research and development (R&D)?
BENNACEUR: There needs to be better communication to reassure investors that the 49/51 rule, which stipulates that at least 51% of a firm must be locally owned, is not an obstacle. Questions about the monetary system are often raised as potential hurdles to investment, but companies should not be worried about repatriation of profits, as nearly 50% of these can be repatriated. Other investors point to the value of the Algerian currency as an issue, but it is important to remember that investments in Algeria are done at the official exchange rate, as is true for any amounts recuperated through business transactions and profits.
As for R&D, AstraZeneca has shown its commitment in Algeria by continuing to invest strongly in clinical trials, with a clear added value for local doctors and patients. In the pharmaceuticals industry, these are among the most expensive investments, and only select markets are involved due to the high costs and stringent requirements.
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