A functional pharmaceutical sector is essential in achieving national health targets/goals. In addition, pharmaceutical manufacturing, which is a sub-component of the pharmaceutical sector, can serve as a substantial source of national income (through import substitution and hard currency generation), if managed properly. The pharmaceutical sector can also contribute to the advancement of science and technology through innovations and/or research in support of the overall health sector development. A case in point is the focus that should be given to the development of traditional medicine, which is an untapped national resource that would augment the current health service delivery in the country.
In Ethiopia, the pharmaceutical sector has long suffered from a multitude of challenges and stumbling blocks, which hindered advancements that had been seen in other countries. Although Ethiopia developed a well-articulated pharmaceutical policy some twenty years ago, there has been inadequate effort to effectively implement the policy. Moreover, the lack of a harmonized leadership to coordinate and/or synergize efforts between the subsectors led to fragmentation and the absence of a shared goal that could have contributed to the overall national vision. As a result, the national health system as a whole has suffered from poor quality of pharmaceutical services and frequent stock out of critically needed essential medicines that deterred the progress towards prevention and treatment of common illnesses. Moreover, the underdeveloped manufacturing sector has failed to make the expected level of contributions to improve access to essential medicines let alone contributing to the national economy. The absence of a single manufacturing industry that evolved from small local pharmaceutical businesses, as observed elsewhere, indicates the presence of a complex challenge acting as a barrier for growth of domestic entities through the value chain to ultimately contribute to the national vision of expanding the local manufacturing industry.
Although Ethiopia is known for its diversified fauna and flora, which form a substantial component of traditional medicine practices, there has been neither visible progress nor proper strategy to rip the benefit out of this domestic knowledge and resources. The lack of properly designed pharmaceutical workforce development strategy has also led to a continual shortage of pharmacists as well as substantial attrition and brain drain in the academia, leading to dwindling quality of pharmacy education. Anecdotal information on the practice of pharmacy at both the public and private sector indicate an ongoing decline in keeping up with ethical and good pharmacy practices. Malpractices are reported invariably in all components of pharmacy practice including import-export, distribution and dispensing. During the recent annual conference of the Ethiopian Pharmaceutical Association (EPA) members have bitterly expressed their frustration on derelictions observed in the sector and urged the Association to immediately join hands with FMOH to devise a strategy for curbing the situation.