The Kenyan Pharmaceutical Industry & HIV Management

Photo Credit: BAKE
Anad Joshi, Ntya Patel & Supraksh Mandal Photo Credit: BAKE

On Thursday 20th August, I met a team from Lab & Allied at an event organized by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE). The panel discussion of three, Mr. Suprakash Mandal, Mr. Anad Joshi, and Mr. Nitya Patel, was enlightening as the panelists engaged the audience, shedding light and demystifying some existing myths in the Kenyan pharmaceutical industry.

Founded in 1970’s, Lab & Allied is one of East Africa’s leading pharmaceutical industries. They specialize in manufacturing generic drugs and distribute them not only in Kenya, but also in the Eastern Africa region.

According to popular belief, generic drugs are perceived to be of a lower quality than their branded ‘original’ counterparts’. In several support groups, I’ve heard People Living with HIV are advised to stick to either generic or original drugs and not step down after using a superior brand of a drug. It is often a confusing affair and I sought to find out from a manufacturer. Mr. Suprakash, Lab & Allied CEO who is a pharmacist by profession, said that the debate on Generics vs Originals is a myth. “Generics are just as good as the branded drugs”, he said.

The manufacture and export of generic drugs was not only a turning point in terms of the price of ARVs, but also helped to revolutionize treatment for resource-poor settings by simplifying HIV and AIDS treatment. In 2001, an Indian generic manufacturer produced a combination of three antiretrovirals (patented by different pharmaceutical companies) into a single pill, known as a fixed dose combination (FDC) . This was only possible because India did not have to abide by TRIPS legislation at this time and was therefore able to ignore the patents on the drugs.

“Lab & Allied does not manufacture ARVs because of the long tendering process involved with the Global Fund and other aid organizations”, Mr. Suprakash said. “ARVs don’t give good margins because they are funded by WHO, and distributed for free. It is therefore not economically viable to manufacture ARVS independently”, he added.

Kenya obtains most of its HIV medicines from India, but the high cost of importation has made it difficult for the government to put all those who need it on treatment. More than 400,000 HIV-positive people are receiving ARVs, but another 600,000 require the drugs and have no access to them. An estimated 1.5 million Kenyans are infected with HIV.

“We however manufacture a range of drugs that manage Opportunistic Infections”, Mr. Suprakash said. An example is Acyclovir tablets used for treating Herpes virus, a common Opportunistic Infection in immune-compromised patients.

Speaking on the effects of technology on the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Anad Joshi, the head of sales and marketing said that google cannot replace doctors. “Online content creation is good, but people should always consult their doctors”, he said.

Mr. Supracash added that a headache for example can be caused by a number of reasons including a brain tumor. “One of the dangers of drug abuse is self-medication, pharmacists should act ethically by selling Prescription Only Medicines to patients with doctor’s prescription”, he said. Self-medication and abuse of antibiotics are the reasons for drug resistance.

Lab & Allied does not carry out primary research, but invests in adaptive research on original drugs and produce generics. They therefore they do not hold any patents.

Mr. Nitya Patel Lab & Allied’s Business Development Director said that Lab & Allied has different divisions that manufacture different drugs. Their most recent division is the Vecura division dealing with veterinary drugs. “We are also the focusing on drugs that manage three lifestyle diseases, diabetes, hypertension and osteoarthritis”, he said.

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