Unitaid Backs Kenya’s Quest to Become a Regional Pharmaceutical Hub

By Gift Briton

Unitaid has announced plans to strengthen Kenya’s capacity to locally manufacture pharmaceutical products, including key medicines, tests, and oxygen.

Unitaid is a global health partnership, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, that accelerates the delivery of missing treatments to those with unmet needs. Currently, Unitaid supports 11 health projects in Kenya focusing mainly on HIV, TB, malaria, cervical cancer, maternal health, and liquid oxygen.

During its board visit to Kenya to take stock of the public health impacts of its investment, Unitaid affirmed that Kenya is one of the African countries set to benefit from its regional and local manufacturing agenda.

“We are exploring currently, as part of our regional and local production agenda, to support local production of liquid oxygen in the country so that Kenya and other countries in the region are not reliant on other multinationals. Another area we want to expand is the regional production of key medicines and tests,” Robert Matiru, Director of Programme Division for Unitaid, told journalists during a press briefing in Nairobi, Kenya.

Unitaid has already supported several local manufacturing of high-quality affordable medicines in Kenya. In 2023, the organization supported Universal Corporation Limited- a Kenyan pharmaceutical company- to make Kenya the first country in Africa to get the World Health Organization (WHO)’s approval for antimalarial drugs used to prevent malaria in women and children.

“There are other companies in Kenya and Africa at large that Unitaid will be identifying to support local productions. We told Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health that we will be looking for other opportunities to support local production not just in Kenya but across other African countries. That is important for future health security for endemic diseases that continue to be a problem in Africa and for future pandemics so that our countries are better able to secure their health security,” Matiru said.

He added: “Balancing overreliance on health products is critical for the health security of African countries. It requires strengthening local and regional capabilities to produce essential medicines and diagnostics. That is going to take time but it has to start somewhere.  In our new strategy, we are going to expand our investment and efforts to do this. We are going to prioritize Africa so that with time, governments can start to source key medicines and tests within Africa.”

To achieve this, Unitaid notes that it will leverage regional approaches and institutions such as the Africa CDC and Africa Union to coordinate efforts for the establishment of regional pharmaceutical hubs such that the capacity of countries with demonstrable foundations and potential to produce key medicines and diagnostics are strengthened to enable them to produce and supply products to the whole continent.

“Kenya is an important country for Unitaid because of the many underlying elements. Be it the political will to be an early mover, the political commitment to universal health coverage, investing in community health champions, and civil societies who are also able to hold government to account. What is important for us at Unitaid is sustainability. Ensuring that there is a viable market to sustain production and empowering the manufacturer to be on the market on a long-term basis which is part of the product security agenda of Kenya,” Tenu Avafia, Deputy Executive Director for Unitaid said.

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