The government is trying to woo foreign investors into setting up local drugs manufacturing plants to help cut on the cost of importing drugs.
This was said by Dr Anita Asiimwe, the Minister of State in charge of Public Health and Primary Health care.
She, however, said that while several firms had shown intrest none had made concrete commitments because of concerns about the size of the local market.
Dr Asiimwe was responding to a question by MP Constance Rwaka Mukayuhi, the chairperson of Parliament’s standing Committee on Budget and National Patrimony.
“Some have promised to consider setting up plants here but are still looking into how best they can penetrate the regional market,” Dr Asiimwe said.
And, while Mukayuhi suggested that the prospective investors should look at the larger East African Community market (with a combined population of over 120m people), the minister said some firms had expressed reservations that they were not sure whether all the other partner states would necessarily buy drugs from Rwanda, as a result of their investment.
But the idea is to get them to set up plants here, she said.
Essential medicines in focus
In an interview, the minister said the government intends to establish companies that manufacture essential drugs.
“We are not only talking about paracetamol, aspirin and other key antibiotics, there is a list of 250 drugs that we call essential drugs. But even if we produced them, there will always be some others we cannot,” Dr Asiimwe said
Nathan Mugume, the head of division, Rwanda Health Communication Centre, said the country spends about Rwf7 billion annually on essential medicines.
During this fiscal year, nearly Rwf2 billion went into contraceptives, vaccines and drugs, with the latter taking over Rwf687m.
Mid last year, the EAC accelerated the implementation of its Regional Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan of Action (EACPMPOA 2012-2016) by establishing a project steering committee. The grand agenda is to address the challenges faced when providing safe, efficacious, and affordable quality medicines to its over 141 million population.
The provision of such medicines and other quality health commodities remains a major challenge in the region due to inadequate local production and over-reliance on imported pharmaceutical products.
Last May, Jean Pierre Niyitegeka, the Director of Social, Political and Legal Affairs at the Ministry of EAC Affairs, told The New Times that through the bloc’s Plan of Action, local pharmaceutical manufacturing will benefit by saving on foreign exchange through import substitution and increased access to essential medicines. The bloc’s pharmaceutical sector is characterised by net imports largely from India and China and it varies from one country to another.
The Ministry of Health’s Third Health Sector Strategic Plan (HSSP III) seeks to increase local production of medicines and other commodities. Rwanda currently has only one pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, Pharmaceutical Laboratory of Rwanda (LABOPHAR).