The first phase of a new factory to manufacture drugs, including antibiotics, in Rwanda is expected to reduce between 10 and 20 per cent of Rwanda’s drug imports.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the factory to be constructed in Kigali by Cooper Pharma, a Moroccan pharmaceutical company took place yesterday.
Ayman Cheikh Lahlou, the chief executive officer of Cooper Pharma, said the factory will start producing medical supplies within the next 18 months from the inception of construction works, making millions of units or packs of pharmaceuticals.
Last year, Rwanda spent about $100 million (about Rwf85 billion) on drugs imports, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB)’s chief executive officer, Clare Akamanzi.
“This is a very crucial investment for Rwanda because we rely mostly on imported drugs. This means that the factory will reduce the money spent on importation of drugs,” Akamanzi observed.
The factory will be built on 20,000 square meter plot at Kigali Innovation City, Kigali Special Economic Zone in Gasabo District.
Akamanzi said that the first phase will provide jobs to about 40 Rwandans, and will help reduce the country’s drug import bill through production of drugs locally.
Under the first phase, the plant will be making essential injectable medicine used in clinics and hospitals, including and sterile products, sterile antibiotics, sterile painkillers, sterile analgesics, sterile anti-fever, Lahlou explained.
For the second phase, he said, the factory will be making tablets or capsules for allergy, digestion, cardiology, nerve system, among others.
He added that, “phase two will go according to other technologies that the market will be asking for.”
“The main objective of the project is to help Rwanda to be more independent in terms of supply of medicine … It’s a matter of substituting what is imported today with local production,” he said.
He said it’s also aimed to have availability of good quality medicine in Rwanda for Rwandan people and people of the region because ‘we intend to export from here.”
Talking about investment, Lahlou said that investment for the first phase will be between$6 to $7 million, without including technology transfer.
Employees and skills
The factory will need three categories of employees taking care of the business, with the first one being production and manufacturing which requires high skills and training that the company can provide.
The second one is in quality control to test (and) control the drugs; while the third is more in commercial functions, which will include the provision of information on the drugs.
“Our aim is to have Rwandans taking care of this business,” said Lahlou, noting that the company will send only about two or three executives.
Despite difficulties in the development of local capacity for the production of essential medicines, Rwanda has made some efforts to create a comprehensive environment for investment, according to the National Pharmacy Policy developed by the Ministry of Health.
The policy notes that Rwanda must continue to work through agencies that deal with investiments in providing guidance and incentives to create manufacturing capacity for specific investments in pharmaceutical industry.
Rwanda has only one pharmaceutical factory that produces some essential medicines.
On pharmaceutical workforce in Rwanda, the area includes pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
Of the available 500 pharmacists (as of early 2016), only 39 per cent are serving in the public sector.
Cécile Nkomeje, the Managing Director of PharmaLab, a company producing medical plastic tubes and containers, told Saturday Times that the factory will help the country to save money that was being spent on drugs imports, and enable the county to export to neigbouring countries and beyond.
She said that her company could work with the new factory to produce tubes that will be needed to keep drugs (especially in liquid form).
Cooper Pharma started establishing pharmaceuticals factories in West Africa 20 years back, the second set was Eastern Europe, the third Middle East, and East Africa comes next.
Talking about the company’s interest in Rwanda, Lahlou said that in East Africa, “we found out that the best country, the best location, the best governance that fits in value between our company and government and local players is Rwanda.”
The contribution of entire industrial sector to Rwanda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is currently 14 per cent, against the Vision 2020 target of 20 per cent, according to information from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.