Uganda in double blow against malaria - with local drugs

Michael Wakabi | 05 Apr 2010
The East African
Uganda is close to striking a double blow in East Africa's fight against malaria after two of its drug manufacturing plants achieved certification critical to in-country manufacture of new age treatments for the killer disease.

After nearly two years of painstaking trials, Indian pharmaceutical giant Cipla has certified the artemisinin powder extracted by western Uganda based Afro-Alpine Pharma as meeting required standards for the ingredient while in Kampala, the World Health Organisation has finally prequalified the advanced pharmaceutical plant that Quality Chemicals Industries Ltd set up in a joint venture with Cipla.

The WHO announced its prequalification of the Quality Chemicals plant, in which Cipla holds a 41 per cent stake, as meeting its Good Manufacturing Practices standard on March 5, while Afro-Alpine's exports of artemisinin began earlier.

These developments are not only good news for the region's poor, who bear the brunt of the killer disease, but also assures a new income stream for small-scale farmers in western Uganda, who have been contracted to grow the artemisia annua shrub, from which the artemisinin is extracted.

Cipla has already opened a letter of credit covering a full year's purchase of Afro-Alpine's output of artemisinin, and the Ugandan company has already shipped the first consignments of the powder, which is blended with another ingredient, lumefantrine, to produce combination treatments (known as artemisinin combination therapies.

Under the arrangement agreed between Cipla and Afro-Alpine, the Ugandan powder will be airlifted to Cipla's facilities in India for extraction of the active ingredient and fortification with the synthetic compound lumefantrine, before it is shipped back for formulation into end user doses at the Quality Chemicals plant in Kampala.

Killer disease

"This is a small step for our company but a giant leap forward in the fight against malaria in Uganda. With these closely related developments, we are just 10 per cent away from total independence in the fight against the biggest killer disease not just here but globally," said Afro-Alpine director Charles Mbire.

Malaria kills at least 128 Ugandans every single day, but with only an API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) plant missing from the link, the two companies said the country had covered 90 per cent of the journey to full independence in the manufacture of treatments for the world's leading killer disease.

"It is a huge investment, but we are in negotiations to put up an API plant with other actors. From a national point of view, the plant will be justified by its potential to open more areas to production of artemisia as it can be grown in other parts of the country too," said Emmanuel Katongole, managing director of Quality Chemicals Ltd.

"If we can close the gap between us and Quality Chemicals, so that the powder does not have to be taken to India, then we would have achieved something with far-reaching benefits," said Mr Mbire.