Changing faces of Tanzania’s healthcare industry

Thursday October 11 2018

Dr Chakou Halfani

Dr Chakou Halfani 

By Dr Chakou Halfani

In recent years, Tanzanians have witnessed fast-moving changes in healthcare industry, so much so that one might think we are already where we want to be. Well, not yet, and I would like to expand on that.

But, let me begin by a hint on the country’s industrialisation agenda in general.

The government has acted quite swiftly on the matter, given that President John Magufuli has publicly declared his intention of building a middle income economy through industrialisation.

I can rightly point to what we might have all seen—the fast-tracking of licensing and registration process, introduction of single processing centre, identification and provision of adequate land and so on.

These have, undoubtedly, stimulated the industrialization agenda, and the health sector is part and parcel of the positive changes.

Now that the agenda is growing at a fast pace, some aspects, deeply embedded in the healthcare industry growth might be overlooked. That’s why a major and deliberate highlight is needed.

Researchers, academics, government officials, investors and civil society can, in fact, help shape the agenda through a platform that triggers minds to unleash solutions.

On November 13 and 14, when Tanzania Health Summit (THS) kicks off in Dar es Salaam, I am looking at the possibility where experts from various fields will ponder on how we can take the healthcare industry from where we are, to a Tanzania we want.

I anticipate that this is going to be a moment where we will critically discuss what still holds us back, so that jointly, we can set common solutions and move together.

Why medicinal plants are a prerequisite

Of interest to me is the sub-theme on basic science research, which is one of the aspects that have been highlighted as part of the Summit preparations.

Actually, the major theme, titled ‘Tanzania Health Sector Industrialization. Progress Review and Unlocking Persistent Challenges’, sums up what will be discussed.

But, if we are to create a country where healthcare is well industrialised, then, we must agree that research on plants, meaning medicinal plants, is more important at this point in time than ever before.

It’s time to invest heavily in research on how various medicinal plants can be put into use or even developed into pharmaceutical drugs. Tanzanians, by their nature, have a great interest in traditional medicine.

We all understand that most pharmaceutical products that are on market in pharmacies have been developed from some indigenous plant species. But unfortunately, most of drugs we use here are imported.

Can Tanzania manufacture its own drugs from the variety of plant species that are in the country?

This is the question that we must now learn to answer properly. What we already know is that Tanzania harbors plant species which have curative properties and we can use these to develop our own pharmaceutical products.

Local taxonomists, who have dealt with plant species have pointed out things such as pawpaw fruit, of the species Carica papaya. It is used for manufacturing papain, a pharmaceutical product.

Medical research includes plastic surgery on cleft palates using papain. We have many species which can be developed into other drugs but not by Tanzanians.

They have been developed by other pharmaceutical countries in other parts of the world. Tanzania is one of the target countries for being able to produce plant species with medicinal properties because we lie along the equator.

There are various studies indicating that the equator and sub-equator are areas of high plant bio-diversity with high medicinal value because of long day length.

We have a very big potential for producing pharmaceutical products from our plant species.

However, the biggest challenge Tanzania faces is the lack of money to build the industries but also to finance the Research and Development (R&D) of the drugs.

We now have a President who has shown the political will to invest in local pharmaceutical production.

I think we can take advantage of this to highlight the best policy and investment practices that can help steer the industrialization agenda forward.

It should dawn on us that we, as a country are losing much money from not taking much greater action. Imagine, every year, Tanzania loses billions of shillings on importing medicine and medical supplies.

Dr Halfani is chairman of Tanzania Health Summit.