A factory that will produce treatments for HIV/AIDS is set to open in Kampala, Uganda, the first of its kind in the country. It aims to reduce the cost of the vital medication by cutting import costs. According to Uganda’s Health Minister, Dr. Stephen Malinga, locally produced anti-retroviral HIV drugs and anti-malaria drugs should be available by January.

Factories like this are not unheard of. A factory in Kenya has been manufacturing a three-in-one pill for several years and is providing the tablets to the East African region. This is the same pill that will be manufactured in the Ugandan factory.

Quality Chemicals, a Ugandan drug importer, will be producing the medicines locally with an Indian pharmaceutical company, Cipla, one of the world’s largest producers of generic drugs. The hope is to sell them not just in Uganda but also in other African countries.

Finding affordable and effective medicines, which is already a huge challenge, is increasingly unreliable in Africa. Many countries have turned to Indian pharmaceutical companies that produce generic copies of drugs designed in the West at much lower prices. However, India tightened its patent laws in 2005, restricting its companies’ ability to copy newer foreign drugs.

In South Africa, some companies are already producing the treatments locally. Other sub-Saharan African countries including Ghana, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia are working to start local production of the drugs as well.

According to the World Health Organization, only 41% of Ugandans who need anti-retroviral therapy receive the treatment.

Health Minister Stephen Malinga said in regards to the new factory, “[Ugandans] will have access to a regular supply of medication and also we hope it will be cheaper, because we will be eliminating the element of transportation and manufacture in foreign countries.”

Leonard Okello, from aid group Action Aid International, told the BBC that distributing the treatment will be the biggest hurdle to overcome.

“The challenge is to make sure that the production is followed by a good distribution system that makes sure that the drug can reach all corners of the country.”

AFJN is pleased with these new developments and we hope it will have a positive effect in the fight on HIV/AIDS. However, we will continue to keep an eye on the situation to be sure that all things go well and that the production of these much needed anti-retroviral drugs is followed up by a good distribution system to be sure that as many people as possible are getting the life-saving treatment.

By Barbie Fischer