Overview of the pharmaceutical sub-sector in Benin
The fight against the manufacture and trafficking of counterfeit medicines has long been a concern for several international organizations and governments. Considered a major challenge to public health, this scourge is spreading throughout the world, particularly in developing countries.
Benin identified among the countries that experienced this situation until September 2016 when the fight against falsified medicines became a government priority. The reforms of the pharmaceutical sub-sector have thus led to the taking of several initiatives such as the closure of illicit drug sales channels including the dismantling of the "Adjégounlè" market, the creation of a court of repression of economic crimes, the adoption of the law N° 2021 - 03 of February 1st 2021 on the organization of pharmaceutical activities in the Republic of BENIN, the seizure and condemnation of the actors of the pharmaceutical sector, the reorganization of the pharmaceutical card and the creation of the Beninese agency of pharmaceutical regulation...
What the covid-19 pandemic teaches us
In addition to the challenge of cleaning up the pharmaceutical sub-sector, the occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgency for Africa in general and especially for Benin, to work for the local production of medical products and respond promptly to the needs of their communities. Indeed, the dependence of African countries, particularly Benin, on international imports and donations has greatly exposed the vulnerability of the continent's health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. The medical manufacturing sector is an unbeaten path in this continent of the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), current vaccine capacity in Africa is concentrated on supplying countries' domestic markets with very little export and a distinct lack of large-scale capacity.
While some African countries such as Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and South Africa have succeeded in making progress in the pharmaceutical industry by manufacturing vaccines, Benin has until now two pharmaceutical industries that only provide orally consumable medical products. The traditional branch of the pharmacy remains the most chosen option for pharmacists. The other major problem with vaccination in Benin is the reluctance of the population. Not always understanding the reasons for the decisions taken by the government and resistant to the behavioral changes required to manage health crises, the Beninese are generally reluctant to accept the exhortations of their leaders during health crisis situations. In the case of the management of the COVID- 19 pandemic, the government was obliged to take exceptional measures to compel its population to wear masks, use the sanitary cordon, and vaccinate. This situation is explained, on the one hand, by the lack of knowledge of health policies by the population and, on the other hand, by the climate of mistrust that reigns between the leaders and the led, reinforced by the generalized intoxication of the fake news.
Image: BSSC in a working session with young activists on identifying of fake news during the COVID-19 pandemic
It is therefore with the aim of facilitating the access of the community at the base to good information and to bring to the central power, the concerns of the populations that I joined the NGO Benin Health and Consumer Survival (BSSC). This organization has initiated discussions with key groups including households and youth, educated and uneducated women's groups to improve citizens' knowledge of their rights as citizens and consumers, to encourage better compliance with executive decisions and to contribute to better governance. Some exchanges take place in the local language in person and through community radio stations and aim to create debate around controversial issues.
The keys of a resilient and sustainable pharmaceutical sector
According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, «the best way to address health emergencies and achieve universal health coverage is to dramatically increase the capacity of all regions to produce the health products they need».
To achieve this ideal, Africa must:
Ensure the availability of human resources by offering specialization scholarships in the pharmaceutical industry and pharmaceutical regulation to pharmacists;
Fill the infrastructure and technology gap that this large-scale project requires by encouraging local economic operators to invest in the pharmaceutical industry;
Make legal provisions to prioritize the distribution of quality medical and local products on the African continent and develop partnerships to make these products accessible to the global market;
Encourage African countries to develop and implement health policies that strongly involve communities and foster trust between leaders and communities. Understanding of health policies and community involvement are necessary to facilitate the management of health challenges, especially in crisis situations.
Fortunately, in Benin, the government is committed to the development of local manufacturing of medical products. Even if the implementation of this reform is still at an embryonic stage, the national authorities of the pharmaceutical sub-sector take this challenge to heart. The private sector (the National Order of Pharmacists of Benin) does not remain in the background and has made this issue a priority by setting up a committee in charge of promoting innovative trades GovBenin.
I strongly believe that the orientation of the new generation of health workers towards scientific research and innovative professions the political will to make Africa attractive for investment are essential to help African countries develop resilient health systems and be less dependent on imported medical products.