A first-of-its kind public-private healthcare initiative was announced in Geneva that will see South Africa produce two of the necessary drugs to treat the growing number of cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) worldwide.
A virulent TB strain
MDR-TB is a virulent, mutated strain of tuberculosis (TB) that is emerging in many developing countries, which is proving to be difficult to treat and therefore much more likely to spread.
South Africa is believed to be experiencing one of the worst TB epidemics in the world, even though effective TB drugs have been available for decades. In nine cases out of ten, TB is curable. According to the Department of Health, TB is the most frequently notified condition in SA. MDR-TB is a strain of TB that often develops in patients who do not complete the proper treatment for TB.
Local black empowerment company involved
Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, who up until now have manufactured the antibiotics needed for treating this disease in the Unites States, have joined forces with a local black empowerment company, New Heights, to transfer all manufacturing technology to South Africa. Not only does this project signify job creation, skills transfer and a great deal of foreign direct investment into South Africa, it will also create vast export opportunities.
Chairman of New Heights, Dr Ntuthuko Bhengu, says, "This new project will improve treatment for MDR-TB worldwide while establishing a model for bringing together public and private organisations to address this global public health threat. Tens of thousands more people will be diagnosed with MDR-TB in the coming years, increasing the risk that the disease will mutate to a more difficult-to-treat form".
More about the project
What this new project will entail is:
- The identification of a local site and subsequent setting up of a production facility
- The creation of up to 100 jobs
- Technology transfer of pharmaceutical manufacturing skills to South Africans for the production of the necessary antibiotics capreomycin and cycloserine. This is in line with the Department of Trade and Industry's published document entitled "A Strategy for Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment"
- Lilly will make available up to 10 full-time staff from their overseas manufacturing plants for up to four years, to offer technical assistance and training necessary to complete the technology transfer and ensure the long-term sustainability of the manufacturing partnership.
- Export opportunities for the product since the South African plant will very likely be the first to come into production, in this international project
- The establishment of a Centre of Excellence for the whole of Africa, in partnership with Harvard University and financed by Lilly, which will be used to train and impart best practices in TB treatment to health practitioners from the African continent. (A similar Centre has been developed successfully in South America, in partnership with Purdue University).
Significance of the project
"The setting up of this initiative fulfils Lilly's intention of serving the communities and customers with whom we conduct business, in a mutually beneficial manner. Further, this project goes beyond just foreign direct investment in financial terms, it provides skills transfer and real job creation." explains Mr Sipho Moshoane, Corporate Affairs Director for Eli Lilly South Africa.
Once the South African initiative has been set up and implemented, similar operations will be taken to Russia and China, other identified MDR-TB "hotspots". The South African plant will also be used to train professionals from these other countries when their projects come online. – (Health24)