By Mary Hearty

In an effort to improve quality and access to medicines and other health products, seven Ministers of Health from small African Island states have signed a joint agreement to procure drugs and vaccines.

The ministers from Cabo Verde, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe and Seychelles that form the small Island Developing States signed the Pooled Procurement agreement to take advantage of economies of scale and collective bargaining.

This is because high cost of drugs and medical supplies is one of the major challenges the small island states face due to their modest populations.
World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who attended the virtual signing ceremony, noted that efforts made in establishing the joint procurement program had already increased the attractiveness of the pharmaceutical market of the small Island Developing States.

“By creating a larger stream of demand, we can look forward to better access to quality and competitively-priced medicines. The high cost of medicines is one of the major barriers many countries in our region face in providing affordable health care of good standard. Pooling our resources is one way of overcoming this challenge,” said Dr Moeti.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus who was also present applauded the ministers for this milestone and promised continued support from WHO to help the countries in implementing the agreement.

The agreement inked today formalizes the objective of the Pooled Procurement Program – to coordinate the procurement of selected medicines and health products affordably and improve product quality. It also sets the guiding principles and governance structure, including the creation of a secretariat, technical committees and a council of ministers.

As the African region faces the double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases, it is essential that countries have systems in place for the timely procurement of supplies at a reasonable cost and in sufficient quantities to address treatment needs and efficiently complement important investments in health promotion.

For the small island states, the pooled procurement of drugs is also expected to harmonize medicines management systems, improve supplier performance and reduce procurement work load. Joint procurement is the ultimate model of inter-country collaboration aimed at improving procurement efficiency.

Plans to set up the joint procurement initiative began in 2017 in Seychelles during a meeting of health ministers from five Small Island Developing States who expressed commitment to implement the program, particularly for medicines for non-communicable diseases. Guinea-Bissau and Madagascar joined later.

“We must admit that it has been a long and tedious effort, and I commend the contributions of past and present Ministers and their teams for the dedication in creating an enabling environment for this mechanism to be launched,” Dr Moeti said.