Government yesterday signed an agreement with the country’s drugmaker Cipla Quality Chemicals Ltd to start manufacturing cancer, sickle cell, and tuberculosis drugs.
Dr Diana Atwine, the Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, who signed the deal on behalf of government at the ministry’s headquarters, said local manufacturing will cut spending on procuring the drugs, increase access and employment.
“This agreement affirms the policy and government’s strategy to support local manufacturing, and also ensure that we build internal capacity and be self-sustaining,” she said.
The country has been buying the drugs from Asia, Europe, and America, a form of dependency which Dr Atwine said greatly affects access to essential medicines, especially during Covid-19 lockdowns because countries with manufacturing facilities were focusing on their population.
“It is a challenge to depend on importation because, through that process, the cost of medicine is higher, but also, if we continue importing, we will not build capacity. We have pharmacists that we train in the country but they don’t have pharmaceutical companies where they can go and train,” Dr Atwine said.
She added that since the company also exports other parts of the medicines, it will increase foreign exchange earnings.
According to the agreement, the government will purchase the 20 types of drugs for the said diseases which will be manufactured by Cipla.
The drugs include abiraterone acetate for cancer, hydroxyurea for sickle cell and cancer, Isoniazid and rifampicin for tuberculosis.
The deal comes at a time when the country is grappling with increased cancer incidence and death, according to Dr Jackson Orem, the director of Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI).
Dr Nixon Niyonzima, the head of research at UCI, last month said the number of patients handled in 2015 stood at 4,000, but in 2020, it shot up to 7,400.
The estimated incidence rate for tuberculosis is 200 per 100,000 population and the death rate is at 35 per 100,000 population, according to World Health Organisation.
Mr Emmanuel Katongole, the chairman of Cipla Quality Chemicals Industries Ltd, said they are injecting $35m (Shs124b) in the production of the said medicines.
He said they plan to start manufacturing in a years’ time after setting up the factory at their Luzira-based facility.
Mr Katongole said manufacturing the new 20 drugs will add to their 14 years of experience in manufacturing drugs for malaria and HIV/Aids in the country.
“We looked at the next burden as a company and particularly focused on the two diseases that are quite a big burden not only to Uganda but Africa and large; that is cancer and sickle cell,” he said.
Mr Katangole added that the responsibility of reducing deaths lies with government and all Ugandans.