13 African Nations Have Expressed Interest in Hosting the New African Medicines Agency 
african medicines agency
Margareth Ndomondo-Sigonda

Some thirteen African nations have expressed interest in hosting the new African Medicines Agency, with an AU decision on where to establish the AMA’s headquarters set for July 2022, senior African Union officials say.

A decision on a headquarters would also pave the way for the recruitment of a director general for the new AMA agency.  And if the DG selection is completed by the third or fourth quarter of 2022, as expected:  “from there the AMA will be ready for takeoff.”

That was the forecast of Margareth Ndomondo-Sigonda, Head of the Health Unit at the African Union Development Agency–New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD).  She was speaking at a special briefing Thursday on the AMA, sponsored by the US-based Center for Global Development.

COVID pandemic has accelerated AMA’s establishment

Jean Baptiste Nikiema – WHO Africa Regional Office

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a crucial role in accelerating the emergence of the AMA, said Jean Baptiste Nikiema, Regional Advisor for Essential Medicines, World Health Organization Africa Regional Office, also speaking at the briefing.

Nikiema noted that the current regulatory system, which meant all 55 African Union countries had to  individually assess the complex biomolecules, therapeutics and vaccines associated with the COVID pandemic at a rapid pace – had underscored the need to have a continental regulatory authority.

“The need arose for an authority to put the sectors together and assess and save time,” he said.

“AMA will be the solution in the future [because] we know that this pandemic will not be the last one,” he said. WHO is supporting African countries in the areas of organization, review and to build capacity, he said. 

Widespread support across continent 

Nikiema described 2022 and 2023 as very critical years in terms of getting the AMA onto the right path; the momentum created over the past months should be maintained considering the agency is enjoying widespread support across the continent.

“When we are speaking to member states, there are no bottlenecks to the treaty’s ratification. The issue is mainly related to country processes,” he said.

He therefore enjoined the stakeholders to go beyond the continent-wide approach and start driving the cause nationally too so that the agency can best perform its saddled tasks.

“Let’s look at the country level also and maybe have a set of mechanisms to push for the ratification of the treaty because we need AMA for the next pandemic, including this one which is not yet finished,” he said.

Dealing with holdouts

As of early February, 30 countries had committed to the AMA by either signing or ratifying the AMA treaty, as reported by Health Policy Watch.

However, the continent’s economic powerhouses are still holding out, including Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya. 

Responding to the concerns about foot-dragging among these countries, Ndomondo-Sigonda, called for patience and more advocacy, adding that their sovereignty also must be recognized and respected. 

“These are sovereign states that have the prerogative of determining what is the priority for their respective countries and therefore, we need to not only be patient but I think we need also to do our part in terms of advocacy so that they can understand the value that AMA brings on board when it is operational,” she said.

She added that the strength of the AMA also hinges on the strength of national regulatory authorities as such, she said this should be brought to the attention of the strategic countries that their respective national regulatory authorities would also be strengthened in the process.

“We know that it’s not just that they will be supporting other countries, but they will also benefit from the outcome of the undertaking. Our advocacy, I think, is very key when it comes to engaging those countries that are considered very strategic,” she added.

Calls for patience in operationalizing up the agency 

David Mukanga, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Even though the AMA would certainly be relevant to the present pandemic, there are also calls for patience with the process – and a long-view perspective.  

David Mukanga, Senior Program Officer of Regulatory Affairs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, observed that the Africa CDC was set up about six years ago – and now it is having visible impacts across the continent.

“We will need to count on the leadership of the African Union and whoever the AMA DG will be, and the governing board — to really set the tone and the pace, so that people remain excited to continue to support, not just the partners, but more importantly the member states,” Mukanga said.

What’s next? 

Ndomondo-Sigonda said the next step in the AMA’s establishment is the assessment of the proposals by the 13 countries that have offered to host the agency – a process that will take place   between March and April 2022. 

“We’re busy preparing for that. So once that is done, approved and the report is ready, then the plan is to convene the first meeting of the Conference of the State parties which is the highest policy making organ of the AMA,” she said.

That AU conference is planned for May 2022. At the AU Assembly to be held in July 2022, the final decision on which country will host AMA headquarters will be made. 

This, in turn, would pave the way to recruitment of a Director-General of the agency.

“So, we are hoping that if all goes well, then in Q3 or Q4 of this year, we’ll have the Director-General in office and, AMA will essentially be running from there and will be ready for takeoff.”

See more of our AMA countdown coverage here:

African Medicines Agency Countdown


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