ARSO Pharmaceutical Standards Harmonisation Programme & the 14th October 2020 – ARSO Webinar on COVID-19 and Post COVID-19 Africa: Tapping the Positive Lessons

The ARSO Webinar for October 14th 2020 is focused on the COVID-19 and Post-COVID-19 Africa, based on positive lessons learnt, with a call for increased manufacturing and industrialisation and increased trade among African countries within the prism of the AU Agenda 2063 and its Flagship project the Africa Continental Fee Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. ARSO, with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), under a new Arab-Africa Trade Bridges Program (AATB) initiative called the Harmonisation of Standards for Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices in Africa, is focused on the harmonisation of standards for Pharmaceuticals and medicinal products for increased trade and availability in Africa.

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. 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. 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 lives and livelihoods on the same scale. 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 for 2020 and it is unlikely that the 3.4 percent (AfDB 2020) economic growth rate for the continent, forecast last year, will be achieved because of the COVID 19 crisis”. (AUC, 2020, The decline is due to the effects on the main economic sector of tourism, air travel, Exports (commodity and the associated tumble in commodity prices), with the decline in both exports and imports projected at 35%from the level reached in 2019 (AfDB 2020).

With this in mind, and 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. Like the food imports, 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. The Eminent Persons, led by the late H.E. Kofi Anan, former UN Secretary General, on their 2014 African Economic report, highlighted that Africa spends USD 35B in food imports and projected it to be USD 100 by 2030. 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. 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, textile and leather and the pharmaceuticals (African Traditional Medicine), to foster manufacturing, trade, industrialisation and sustainable development, and when, according to UNECA (2020, “facilitating cross-border trade through a coordinated African response to COVID-19,) the African Governments adopt and harmonize trade policies (including standardisation (TBTs) to focus on Export oriented manufacturing of Made in Africa Products and boost intra-Africa trade (trade flows) among countries, with effective support from the African Quality Infrastructures (NSBs, PAQI (ARSO)).

It is in this regard that, 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.

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.” (