Over the past six months, the Ebola virus has killed approximately 2,100 people in West Africa, creating an international health crisis and terrorizing communities in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The race to develop, produce and disseminate Ebola vaccines has proven to be immensely challenging. Experimental but potentially life-saving drugs were produced in insufficient quantities during the crucial initial phase of the epidemic, forcing physicians to determine who would receive potentially life-saving medicine and who would not. The WHO recently announced that two possible vaccines will be available as early as next month, reflecting a remarkably rapid pace of drug testing that sharply contrasts with the often slow process of pharmaceutical research, development and patenting. The urgent actions necessitated by the Ebola crisis point to the need for a more efficient, collaborative, and modernized pharmaceutical industry that is better equipped to devote additional resources to the research and development of pharmaceuticals in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa–a region that accounts for 12% of the world’s population but that shoulders 26% of the global disease burden—such innovations are especially essential.
Throughout the global pharmaceutical industry, the research and development of drugs is progressing at a decreased rate while the cost of such development is rising drastically. Some companies have responded to these escalating costs by establishing joint ventures and mergers that increase companies’ resources and promote cost reduction.
The use of e-information and mobile technologies is another means by which pharmaceutical companies can redistribute resources towards drug development in an informed, efficient manner. The digital pooling of regional pharmaceutical data can maximize pharmaceutical companies’ understanding of the specific challenges that face Sub-Saharan Africa and reduce unnecessary expenditures. While such measures would be beneficial in any market, they are particularly essential in the fast-developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, where patients exhibit a wide array of access to healthcare services, basic infrastructure, and medical knowledge. Additionally, mobile devices can be used to track the sale of specific drugs in order to eliminate the use of counterfeit and expired medications; the use of counterfeit medications results in approximately 100,000 Africans’ deaths each year, and decreases pharmaceutical companies’ profits.
Lastly, mobile technologies may assist the industry in meeting Africa’s growing preventative care needs. By 2030, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that typically plague middle-class populations in the developed world will overtake communicable and parasitic diseases as the lead cause of disease-related mortality in Africa, particularly among Africa’s growing middle class. If the pharmaceutical industry is to meet future Africa’s healthcare needs, it will need to better utilize monitoring devices and personal digital assistants–these items can play a key role in the preventative care of persons who may not have regular geographical or financial access to healthcare services.
The recent Ebola crisis has shed light on the importance of tailoring pharmaceutical resources to the needs of particular emerging healthcare markets. In the future, knowledge-sharing, modernization, and an increasingly efficient business model will likely be essential to the success of pharmaceutical companies that provide drugs in Sub-Saharan Africa.