The cost of HIV medicine in Kenya is expected to drop by 30 per cent after a local company was cleared by the World Health Organisation to produce generic ARVs.
The Kikuyu-based Universal Corporation becomes the first company in Kenya to receive such certification known as pre-qualification.
It means that the company can now apply for the lucrative tenders floated by the Global Fund to fight Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis and recently, reproductive health.
The company's ARV drug, Lamozido is in a list of about 255 drugs approved for the Fund last Friday. The company is also seeking to have the milder form of the same drug for children pre-qualified before May next year. The certification is important as more people will now be enrolled in the government programme to provide HIV/Aids patients with the life-prolonging drugs.
Currently there about 400,000 Kenyans on ARVs but according to the WHO, more than 600,000 Kenyans living with HIV should be taking the drugs. WHO said in a statement it approved Lamivudine/Zidovudine tablets of 150mg and 300mg, which are produced at Universal's factory in Kikuyu.
Universal, established in the late 1990s by Finnish national Pentti Keskitalo and Palu and Raju Dhanan, becomes the second in East Africa to receive the WHO prequalification, after Luziria Drug Factory in Uganda which is owned by Quality Chemicals in conjunction with Indian pharmaceutical giant Cipla.
Universal was one of three companies in the continent which started to produce Roche's HIV medicine saquinavir as part of Roche's AIDS Technology Transfer Initiative which was launched in January 2006. The other two companies were South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare and Cosmos Ltd in Kenya.
Yesterday, managers at Universal said the cost of their generic drugs will be cheaper if sold locally. "The prequalification means we've achieved the highest standards for drugs production," said Heman Patel, the administration manager at Universal. "It's great achievement, we've done it for Kenya."
He said the company can now bid in multi-billion international tenders to supply governments and organizations like the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Medicéns Sans Frontiéres (MSF) with drugs.
The WHO has also been evaluating Nairobi-based Regal Pharmaceutical and Cosmos drugs manufacturers - two of the biggest drug manufacturers.