ARSO Webinar on Mitigating the COVID-19 Pandemic through the African Traditional Medicine

Focusing on the African Pharmaceutical industry and the Role of Standardisation. Experiences and Challenges of ARSO Members and Strategies for Africa’s resilience and increased intra-African Trade in the post COVID 19

14th OCTOBER 2020 – 1430 HRS – 1630 HRS EAST AFRICAN TIME.


Moderator – ARSO – Dr. Hermogene Nsengimana, Secretary General, ARSO

Sub-Topics and Proposed Speakers:

  1.  “Scope and Standardisation needs for the African Traditional Medicine (ATM) and the role of the WHO Policy on Mainstreaming and recognition of the ATM into National Health Care systems – highlights for the Pharmaceuticals and medicinal products; and the Medical devices and equipment – ARSO Central Secretariat (Mr. Reuben Gisore).
  1. Post COVID-19: repositioning Africa for self-reliance and resilience in the face of future Global pandemics: fast-tracking the development of “made in Africa” brands embedded in competitive regional value chains for Africa’s Key Sectors like Agro-processing and Pharmaceuticals: the AfCFTA Framework and opportunities and the role of Afreximbank – Afreximbank Official.
  1. Reducing the Africa’s overreliance on imports and thinking Africa’s Industrialisation: positive lessons arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic with potential Home-Grown Solutions, the various Challenges, best practices, needs and opportunities. NEPAD Official

ii       Experience and Challenges in the use of African Traditional Medicine – The Standardisation processes : Standards and Conformity Assessment activities : Policy and the Quality and Safety Issues – Case studies from ARSO members

  1. Algeria
  2. Ethiopia
  3. Madagascar,
  4. Nigeria.

Summary and Way Forward: ARSO – Dr. Hermogene Nsengimana, Secretary General.

Rationale for the Webinar and Background Information.

The COVID-19 pandemic which brought the world to a halt,  is considered as the most crucial global health calamity of the century and the greatest challenge that the humankind has faced since the 2nd World War, with the UN’s Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to the COVID 19 Crisis warning that “The COVID-19 pandemic is far more than a health crisis as it is affecting societies and economies at their core. Indeed, never in the living memory, in recent times, has humanity faced such a challenge in medical, social and economic spheres of life that threatens the viability of all human systems and never before has health, safety and wellbeing been so vital to every aspect of our lives. COVID-19 presents unique challenges because it has no geographic center, its impact is dynamically shifting without regard to borders, and it spreads from human to human, thus threatening the very fabric of humanity that is embedded teamwork, interdependence and consultations, discussions and socialization among citizens.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have indicated COVID-19 pandemic as the largest threat to global economy since the financial emergency of 2008–2009, as COVID-19 has severely demobilized the global economy.  In its April 2020 report, the African Union has reported that “Indeed, the high dependency of African economies vis-à-vis foreign economies predicts a negative economic spinoff for the continent, evaluated at an average loss of 1.5 points on economic growth 2020 and t it is unlikely that the 3.4 percent economic growth rate for the continent, forecast last year by the African Development Bank, will be achieved because of the COVID 19 crisis”. (AUC, 2020,

In the midst of extraordinary challenges and uncertainties, leaders are under pressure to make decisions on managing the immediate and long term impact of the pandemic and its consequences, decisions that will shape the state of the world for years to come and what might be the silver linings in the crisis and how might leaders use this moment to build a more resilient, prosperous, equitable and sustainable world, is a subject of interest (World Economic Forum 2020). On a positive note, due to the endemic reliance on imports, and the breakdowns in supply chains associated with lockdown measures, for the African continent, COVID‑19 has strengthened the case for developing intra-African regional value chains and unlocking the continent’s business potential, while focusing on the African SMEs and Africa’s Industrialisation and Manufacturing. COVID 19 has also magnified Africa’s reliance on imported pharmaceuticals (both final and intermediate products) and amplified the urgency to build competitive, resilient and robust value chains in this sector, including mainstreaming the African Traditional Medicine in the National Healthcare systems and pharmaceutical policies. Karisha Banga, et al. 2020, highlights that in 2018, 82.2% and 95.9% of Africa’s imports of food items, and medicinal and pharmaceutical products, respectively, originated from outside the continent. Not only were many of the main providers of Africa’s pharmaceuticals heavily hit by COVID‑19 (with main sources of imports being the EU-27, India and Switzerland), but many have also limited exports of medical supplies and medicines associated with the pandemic, putting many African countries in perilous positions.

In the wake of countries’ struggles to procure essential medical products to fight COVID‑19, there has already been a positive shift from global, to, towards more regional and local supply chains (with local Manufacturers and SMEs taking the lead to manufacture the required PPEs that comply with the recommended product standards) and with policy re-orientation towards self-reliance and endogenous self-sustained development, within the broad industrialization agenda of Africa (accelerating structural transformation, manufacturing, regional value chains with commensurate positive effects on the made in Africa products and product  diversification) and within the prism of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)., . ( But the long-term economic benefits, according to UNCTAD, 2018c, will arise from unleashing the potential of regional value chains in the key sector, including Agro-processing and the pharmaceuticals (African Traditional Medicine), to foster manufacturing, trade, industrialisation and sustainable development.

At the continental level, UNECA and AFREXIMBANK have also partnered to support the scaling up of manufacturing of COVID‑19 medical supplies that can be produced in Africa and sent across borders. This is expected to facilitate a regional approach to developing medical value chains based on comparative advantages and economies of scale. It will also help ensure that African countries without the capacity to produce these products can access them from within the region. A recent survey jointly carried out by the Africa Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) of UNECA and International Economics Consulting Ltd. (IEC) on the impact of COVID‑19 on business and trade across Africa substantiates the ability of African firms, with effective support from the African Quality Infrastructures (NSBs), to adapt and innovate in response to COVID‑19 challenges, including global supply chain disruptions.

Therefore, as countries all over the world are making a focused effort towards the re-opening of their economies with increased surge on the demand for safe and quality Personal Preventive Equipment, the role of standardisation is being tested and manifested at the same scale, to achieve the intricate balance of saving lives and livelihoods at the same time. Like their international counterparts (ISO, ASTML, AFNOR, CEN-CENELEC, SAC-China, SIS, INTERTEK, COTECNA) the African National Bureau of Standards and Certification Bodies are taking leadership role to offer, free of charge, the necessary standards  and Conformity Assessment Services (see the link for the local manufacturers/SMEs. At the continental level, ARSO has partnered with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) to launch a new Arab-Africa Trade Bridges Program (AATB) initiative called the Harmonisation of Standards for Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices in Africa, aimed at promoting the quality and safety of medicines and medical devices imported or produced on the continent. The initiative, to be implemented in a phased manner over three years, has begun with the harmonisation of standards for Pharmaceuticals and medicinal products (ARSO/TC 80), and Medical devices and equipment (ARSO/TC 78). The second phase will analyse and assess existing international, regional, and national standards for their suitability in meeting the unique challenges faced by African healthcare industries before achieving the 3rd phase, which is the harmonization of the related African Standards and their adoption on the continent. Participating ARSO members have nominated Experts to expedite the process.

Commenting on the initiative, ITFC CEO, Eng. Hani Salem Sonbol highlighted that “From a trade development standpoint, harmonizing the standards of pharmaceutical products and medical devices in Africa is a crucial first step in facilitating local production and trade within the sector and those standards will provide a necessary baseline from which to regulate the sector more effectively, raising the quality of locally produced life-saving drugs and related products”. Mrs. Kanayo Awani, Afreximbank’ s Managing Director of the Intra-African Trade Initiative praised the initiative, noting that“At a time when the demand for quality medicines and medical devices is increasing, Africa needs to reinforce regional value chains to scale-up the supply of quality medical products and build up the continent’s resilience against pandemics like COVID-19 in the future.” ARSO’s Secretary General, Dr Hermogene Nsengimana, noted that “While on one hand COVID-19 has created social distancing as a new norm, on another hand it has brought Africa together by opening our eyes to the need for industrialisation, pointing out that Standards circulated by ARSO and other standards organisations related to face masks, and hand sanitizers have been used widely by African SMEs to develop locally made personal protective equipment thereby shedding light on the role of standards in industrialization, safety, and trade, and the project, will not only help in increasing local production but will also create trust and enable cross border trade and investment for pharmaceutical products and medical devices.” (

The Webinar is also taking place when the International Standardisation Community is celebrating the 2020 World Standards Day on 14th October 2020 under the theme “Protecting the planet with standards”. In their Message, the IEC, ISO and ITU Presidents have highlighted that “the International standards prepared by IEC, ISO and ITU are used to help reduce the environmental impact of industrial production and processes and impact greatly on Government Policies and Health care Systems”. ARSO takes note of the initiatives by ISO to make its 20 standards freely available globally, including in Africa, (, AFNOR for the freely available AFNOR Spec – Barrier masks. The Standardisation Community appreciates ITU’s initiative  on the REG4COVID platform to serve as a repository of emergency actions that the digital community around the world is taking to ensure the continued availability, accessibility and resilience of networks and resources, including virtual standardisation activities.

In all these lies the opportunities provided by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement that serves as the leading framework for boosting intra-African trade and fast-tracking the development of “made in Africa” brands embedded in competitive and robust regional value chains and ensuring that manufacturing, agro-processing and other activities across the continent are stimulated to supply the African Single Market’ and to position Africa, more strongly in the face of future global shocks and Pandemics.

The Webinar

Objective of the Webinar

The Main objective is to offer a platform for discussions on the COVID-19 pandemic, its effects on economies, the standardisation and conformity assessment systems being put in place by ARSO members, and more so the experiences of the ARSO members in the use of the Traditional medicine to offer herbal remedies to the citizens, while also focusing on building the Africa’s resilience in the post COVID-19, through increased industrialisation, manufacturing and establishment of regional value chains and intra-African trade.

Specific Objectives

  1. Understanding the COVID-19 effect on African Economies and how countries are responding with respect to intervention measures.
  2. Understanding the role of Standardisation and Conformity Assessment in the fight against the COVID-19.
  3. Understanding the standardisation activities of the ARSO Member States on providing solutions to the COVID-19.
  4. Understanding How the African Traditional Medicine is being applied among various ARSO member States to contain the COVID 19, and the various Challenges, best practices, needs and opportunities.
  • Identifying the positive lessons arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic with respect to Africa’s Industrialisation, Manufacturing and need for increased intra-African trade, with potential Home-Grown Solutions to support pandemic resilience for Africa.
  • Understanding the role of ARSO and its activities towards the mitigation of COVID-19 Pandemic, including standardisation and conformity Assessment activities, and the initiatives for the Pharmaceuticals and medicinal products and Medical devices and equipment.
  • Understanding the role of the International Community and the International Standards in the mitigation of COVID-19 Pandemic, highlighting the theme of the 2020 World Standards Day.

Outputs of Webinar

  1. Presentations.
  2. Discussions and comments on the COVID-19 Pandemic, the standardisation initiatives, the use African Traditional Medicine the policy gaps, African industrialization Agenda, the intra African trade.
  3. Report of the webinar.

Outcomes of Webinar

  1. Enhanced understanding of the COVID-19 effect on African Economies.
  2. Improved understanding of the role of African Traditional Medicine in mitigation of the COVID-19 and how to address the challenges associated with Quality and safety as well as policy gaps.
  3. Increased understanding of the need for Africa’s industrialisation, Manufacturing, Regional Value Chains and the Made in Africa products for Africa’s resilience and self-reliance, in the post COVID-19 and the need for necessary policies, as per the AfCFTA Agreement.
  4. Better understanding of the role of Standardisation (Quality Infrastructure) in the fight against COVID -19, and the need for harmonised standards and Conformity Assessment Procedures.
  5. Better Understanding of the need to promote Competitive Africa’s SMEs and made in Africa Products and the opportunities created under the AfCFTA.


  • Increased productivity and Trade in Made in African Products with established Regional Value Chains, including in the Pharmaceuticals and medicinal products and Medical devices and equipment, with increased Africa’s Industrialisation, manufacturing and Intra-African Trade.
  • Appreciation of the Role of African Traditional Medicine in the fight Against COVID-19 and strengthened efforts towards formulation of polices for mainstreaming ATM in the National Health Care systems.
  • Increased development, harmonisation and adoption of Standards and Conformity Assessment procedures for the management of the COVID-19 Pandemic, including putting in place policies for the post Covid-19 to help the continent handle such pandemics in future.
  • Increased awareness and accessibility of the existing international (ISO), Continental (ARSO), regional (RECs), and national (NSBs) standards in meeting the unique challenges faced by African healthcare industries
  • Strengthened Policies and Clear frameworks for activities that prioritize the production, trade and competiveness of Made in Africa Products, including the Pharmaceuticals and medicinal products and Medical devices and equipment’s.
  • Right policies for the competitiveness of the African SMEs for scaled up manufacturing of made in Africa products, under the key sector for Africa’s self-reliance and resilience, including COVID‑19 medical supplies and trade across the borders through established regional (medical) value chains based on comparative advantages and economies of scale
  • Increased partnerships and collaborations in the implementation of the standardisation activities that address Africa’s Industrialisation, manufacturing and Intra-African Trade, including the unique challenges of the African healthcare/Pharmaceutical industries.

Mode of Presentation

Speakers may prepare brief slides of no more than 5 minutes to guide the discussions. The presentations will be projected by the ARSO Secretariat. Speakers, therefore, are kindly requested to forward their presentations early enough. The webinar will focus more on discussions. Speakers are further requested to forward detailed notes to be used for reporting purposes. The Presentations will be shared with the Participants.

About ARSO –

ARSO, the African Organisation for Standardisation, is an Intergovernmental Organisation formed by the African Union (formerly OAU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in 1977 to promote Standardisation activities (harmonisation of standards and Conformity Assessment procedures) in Africa to facilitate intra-African and Global trade.


ARSO Membership, Experts and Stakeholders.

Cover Image Courtesy of Google Pictures (Market_Pharmacy_Tana_MS5179)