In a bid to mitigate problems arising from the shortage and scarcity of medical supplies, the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS) has partnered with Rephaiah, a research focused pharmaceutical company registered in Iceland, to work on the possibilities of manufacturing medicines and other medical supplies locally. This development comes after the two institutions analysed how Malawi failed to provide vital medical supplies for its citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the first meeting where the two parties met to iron out areas of co-operation, which took place at KUHeS recently, KUHeS’ Dean of School of Life Sciences and Allied Health Professionals, Associate Professor Arox Kamng’ona said it was a matter of national security to ensure that Malawi is self-sufficient in the supply of medicines and medical supplies. He said the university had placed research and manufacturing of medicine at the top of its deliverables and that it intends to meet this target within the next five years.
“When COVID 19 hit us, people were asking, where is College of Medicine (as we were known then). And they were justified to ask such questions. As a leading institution housing advanced medicine research experts in this country, we had no locally developed product to help in the fight against Covid-19. All we offered was our expert training in patient care. We were urged by the Minister of Health and the President to rise to the challenge. This meeting is one of the efforts the university is undertaking so the country does not experience the scarcity of medical supplies we experienced during the peak of COVID-19.” Said Kamng’ona.
He went on to say the University has ambitious strategic plans of establishing a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility with over 7000 square meters. Construction is projected to start in the first quarter of 2023. When completed, the facility is expected to manufacture vaccines, fluids, antibiotics and pain killers.
“As a university, we realise we need partners with complementary skill sets and expertise. We have found in Rephaiah a perfect partner” said Kamng’ona, commenting on the partnership with Rephaiah.
On his part, the founder of Rephaiah Prof Sveinbjorn Gizurarson said Rephaiah’s core business is pediatric medicines because very little medicines are developed with the special needs of children in mind. As a result, clinicians resort to breaking pills just to meet the needed dose for children. Rephaiah aims to change all that by producing child friendly formulations. However, Gizurarson was quick to mention that in Malawi Rephaiah, has been established as a nonprofit pharmaceutical manufacturing entity.
“At the moment, some of these products are made in India, packaged in Mexico and shipped back to Africa for distribution. Everybody agrees this is not cost efficient. We want both the manufacturing and packaging to be done in Africa and Rephaiah has chosen Malawi to be the center of manufacturing these products for distribution across Africa. That is why our drive is “Producing life-saving and life-enhancing medicine for infants and young children in Malawi and Sub-Saharan Africa”. He said.
One of the directors of Rephaiah, Mrs Hellen Chabunya said the company was committed to propelling Malawi as a center of excellence and preferred supplier for medicines in Africa.
“Our plan is that Rephaiah will be fully owned and operated by indigenous Malawians once we have full leverage on the global expertise we have with our partners and have trained the necessary people for the sustainable continuity of this business in keeping with our mission and service to Malawi.” Said Chabunya.
Commenting on the partnership with KUHeS, Prof. Sveinbjorn Gizurarson said Rephaiah could not find a better partner than KUHeS.
“As an institution already in the business of providing the best care for patients, Rephaiah and KUHES have shared common values. Rephaiah has the license and expertise to manufacture the medicines and above all we have the market to sell these medicines. There is therefore no need to wait any longer for manufacturing to start”, said Prof Sveinbjorn.”
The two institutions plan to start small scale manufacturing at the current Kamuzu University of Health Sciences site in Blantyre as they wait for the construction of the bigger facility near Chileka airport. The team toured some facilities that can be renovated to meet World Health Organization’s (WHO) standards for manufacturing medicines.
The two organisations committed to clearing the legal and agreement terms before the end of this year with possible manufacturing commencement in 2023.