After a 2005 request by the government of Uganda to partner with local firm Quality Chemicals Ltd, Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing giant Cipla entered the country, enabling it to locally manufacture antiretroviral drugs to combat HIV/AIDS and anti-malarial drugs. Nevin Bradford, whose experience in the sector includes stints as country manager for Glaxo in Saudi Arabia and for Novartis in Russia, heads up the Ugandan operation. He spoke to The Report Company about the operations of the joint venture, Cipla Quality Chemical Industries.
The Report Company: How did this joint venture get started?
Nevin Bradford: There was a pressing need for both malaria and HIV medicines, none of which were produced in the country or indeed in East Africa at the time. A plant was required, and local firm Quality Chemicals already imported from Cipla, as Cipla was the first company to make antiretroviral drugs available in Africa for one dollar a day, and the idea was that Cipla could transfer the technology of manufacturing those products across to their partner. That is how the whole thing started.
There was a need, and Cipla could meet that need, and President Museveni was very instrumental in guiding this and moving forward the establishment of the plant and the development since then. The plant is a World Health Organization-approved manufacturing facility. There are only four of these in sub-Saharan Africa, and this is the only one outside of South Africa that manufactures antiretrovirals. We have been in production now for seven years.
In addition to Cipla and Quality Chemicals, there are two other investors, one from the UK and one from South Africa. They are financial investors, and they came in several years ago. Cipla currently has a 51 percent stake in the company, which is valued today at well in excess of $100 million. This is a strategic investment for Cipla, because of that fact that we are a WHO-approved plant and the only one to manufacture ARVs and antimalarials, which are both core products, so Uganda is therefore an important part of the overall strategy.
“In East Africa, many people associate Kenya with being a growth destination, but I would say that Uganda warrants equal attention.”Tweet This
TRC: Are you planning to expand your product range?
NB: Cipla from India has 2,000 products. Here in Uganda, we certainly intend to expand what we offer. We are currently taking the regulatory batches for hepatitis B products. This is again a chronic viral condition and is increasingly recognized as one of the conditions that will unfortunately be more of a problem in the future.
TRC: What are your growth projections for the company in Uganda?
NB: We see significant growth. It is difficult to put a figure on it, but the demand for hepatitis medicine will become more and more apparent as we go forward. The government has also announced plans to increase the number of patients on HIV medication. Previously it was patients with a CD4 count of 350 or below that were placed on treatment; now the aim is to have patients with a count of 500 and below placed on treatment. It has been shown that the earlier you start treatment with antiretrovirals, the better the long-term outcome. In the United States and in Europe, anybody who is diagnosed with HIV is immediately placed on treatment. That is not the case here because of the cost. The increase in the number of patients by going to a count of 500 will mean that those patients in the long-term actually cost less to the healthcare system because they will be well for much longer. It will pay off in the long term. I would say that although they rate of HIV infection is declining, the patient pool is going to increase because of this.
“The plant is a World Health Organization-approved manufacturing facility. There are only four of these in sub-Saharan Africa, and this is the only one outside of South Africa that manufactures antiretrovirals.”Tweet This
TRC: What are you currently focusing on?
NB: Part of the problem with HIV has been that the virus changes, so medication that might have been effective a few years ago may no longer be as effective. Therefore, patients are given a combination of drugs, and the problem is that sometimes they are taking six or nine or 12 tablets a day, which is not easy. We produce what is called a triple combination, which is one pill a day which contains three medications to make treatment a lot easier to manage.
TRC: How would you describe the company’s impact on the country?
NB: The company provides high quality, affordable access to treatment. It also provides self-reliance to a large degree, because of the fact that these drugs are manufactured in Uganda for Ugandan patients. This means we provide long-term, sustainable access to affordable healthcare. If you are importing all of your HIV medications, you are at risk if there is any disruption to supply. Being in Uganda, we provide supply security. We can also provide medications that are tailored to the particular needs of the patients here.
TRC: How would you rate your experience in Uganda?
NB: It has been very positive. The company has received a lot of support, guidance and assistance from government. There are challenges, obviously, particularly around the depreciation of the Uganda shilling and also in terms of some of the infrastructure challenges but on the whole it’s a very positive experience, and that is why the company is investing further.
I would honestly say that Uganda is at the heart of Africa and it has tremendous potential. It has a highly-educated and literate population which is technically well qualified, it is well-endowed with natural resources, and it’s a market that would warrant serious investment consideration. In East Africa, many people associate Kenya with being a growth destination, but I would say that Uganda warrants equal attention.