How to prevent people dying from a new pandemic

It is clear much more needs to be done to strengthen regional health care systems against a number of public health threats.

The African continent, rich in resources and human capital, remains woefully underprepared for the next global pandemic.

According to the latest estimates from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca), the continent imports close to 94% of its pharmaceutical and medicinal needs at an annual cost of $16 billion (about R300 billion).

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The equitable distribution of medicine in Africa has since come under sharp scrutiny by government leaders and other organisations, including the African Union and the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

It is clear much more needs to be done to strengthen regional health care systems against a number of public health threats, and the rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) should remain at the top of our list of priorities.

AMR is when medicines, such as antibiotics, that were previously effective for the treatment of common ailments, are no longer effective.

It is projected that by the year 2050, AMR death would be 1.4 million people worldwide. This bears significant consequence for African populations, where 27 deaths per 100 000 occur annually, solidifying Africa as the continent with the highest mortality rate from AMR.

The rise in AMR is caused by multiple factors, including the misuse or overuse of antibiotics. It is also caused by the emergence of substandard and falsified antibiotics.

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In Africa, up to 500 000 deaths are attributed to fake medicine, of which 169 271 are linked to falsified and substandard antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia in children.

AMR is wholly preventable. By eradicating counterfeit medicine and providing a consistent, appropriate basket of beta lactams and cephalosporins through new, locally based antimicrobial facilities, we can develop an effective, regional response to this silent pandemic.

This would have to include the construction of new laboratory testing facilities in Africa.

If we can build new pharmaceutical facilities in settings where resources are limited but capacity has improved, we can develop a uniquely pan-African response to this crisis, in a manner that strengthens our healthcare systems, while preventing any further loss of life.

• Mynhardt is CEO and cofounder at MMH & Partners Africa

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