Construction has started on a multimillion dollar Aids drug factory that will become the largest in Africa when it opens later this year.
The $100m (£75m) facility will bring 1,000 jobs to Kenya and reduce the reliance of almost half of the continent’s countries on European imports.
The drugs, which will be made in Nairobi in a partnership between the government, the Global Fund and local drug manufacturers, will dramatically reduce Kenya’s spending on its Aids epidemic, said the country’s medical director, Dr Jackson Kioko.
“This will cut our annual government budget from 38bn shillings [£285m] to a reasonable amount that we spend treating HIV/Aids. This will also put about 300,000 people under treatment.
“In addition, we will supply to other African countries, especially our regional neighbours. The manufacturing plant will cost 10bn shillings in initial costs.”
According to the latest figures, roughly 1.5 million Kenyans are living with HIV, about a million of whom are currently having antiretroviral treatment. The number of new HIV infections has been growing annually by more than 44,000 people. An estimated 90% of antiretrovirals are imported, mostly from Europe and India.
Kioko said the new production will also help to tackle the problem of counterfeit drugs. Kenyan police have recently made a number of arrests involving Chinese criminal cartels running fake antiretrovirals.
“Issues to do with fakes will be a thing of the past, but we will also cater for the rising number of new infections each year despite a declining prevalence rate of 5.2%. Most of the fake medicines have been tested by government regulatory agencies and found to be faulty and dangerous,” said Kioko.
“There is an increase of fake drugs in the market that have resulted in several cases of drug resistance to the Aids virus as a result of misuse. The fake drugs are supplied by unregistered or fake medical personnel. They convince desperate people to stop antiretroviral therapy and use their alternative products in unrealistic promises of a cure from their ailment”, said Kioko.
The factory, which will supply 23 African countries, will also be able to manufacture drugs to fight malaria and tuberculosis. Most of the drugs will be under patent from European parent companies, including GlaxoSmithKline.
Dr Martin Sirengo, head of Kenya’s national Aids and STI control programme, said he hoped that locally made drug supplies might encourage people who have not yet come forward to test their HIV status. He also hoped that drugs would be manufactured to cater for other needs.
“We will be conducting surveys very often so that we can identify special cases, and the amount and type of drugs to be produced will then be determined,” said Sirengo.