The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the deep-seated inequities that exist in accessing critical health services. What came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic is the extreme vulnerabilities that African countries are exposed to: the region imports an average of 70% of pharmaceutical products. Some countries are even 100% reliant on imports of medical products and technologies. There is a need to reduce such dependence. African leaders have since stepped up and expressed their willingness to strengthen local research and development and innovation ecosystems by boosting local manufacturing capacities across the continent.
Supporting and capacitating local research and development efforts is a key determinant in facilitating sustainable access to quality assured health products. The Seventieth session of the WHO Africa Regional Committee adopted a strategy for scaling health innovations in the regions. This strategy presents an opportunity for member states to strengthen their local research and development and innovation ecosystems to make them more responsive to the needs of the region.
Why the WHO Africa Product Innovation Challenge?
Drawing from the success of the 2018 inaugural WHO Regional Office for Africa Innovation Challenge, a second Innovation Challenge is to be launched to identify potential product candidate profiles that upon further support may result in scaling up their local manufacturing. The idea of the Product Innovation Challenge was born out of the need to promote and accelerate translation, commercialization and scaling up of manufacturing of local products developed by scientists, engineers and researchers from institutes, universities and innovation hubs across the continent. The Innovation Challenge will source, select and support novel solutions that improve health outcomes to respond to unmet health needs, improve health outcomes and the quality of life across Africa.
This Challenge will prioritize innovative and scalable healthcare solutions for selection in the categories of Product or Product Platform Innovations and will also provide continued support to healthcare innovators through WHO AFRO’s Innovators forum. This platform provides up-to-date, informative content and serve as a dynamic marketplace to connect diverse stakeholders such as ministries of various sectors of the government including health, academics, innovators and public and private investors to credible health innovations across the continent.