Aspen Pharmacare, a South African pharmaceutical company, has landed a €600mn long-term financing deal from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and three development finance institutions (DFIs), in what the IFC says is the largest healthcare investment it has ever mobilised.

The financing will help Aspen, Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company, to refinance existing debt and strengthen the company’s balance sheet, supporting its operations including production of vaccines and other therapies in African and emerging markets.

The package is made up of €200mn from IFC’s own account, €156mn from Proparco, a subsidiary of Agence Française de Développement (AFD Group), €144mn from German DFI DEG, and €100mn from the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

The news comes as governments and multinational organisations have called on the international community to bolster the continent’s vaccine supply chain to respond to Covid-19 and promote longer-term health sector resilience.

“The fact that we have vaccinated so little of our population is not acceptable,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director general at the World Trade Organization and Nigeria’s former finance minister, during a virtual panel hosted in late May by UBA, a pan-African bank.

According to data from the Africa CDC vaccine dashboard, which is updated weekly, just 2.7% of the continent’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 1.1% are fully vaccinated. In Europe, the proportion of fully vaccinated people is now close to 40%, while in the US it is 46%.

The African Union and Africa CDC announced in April 2021 an ambition for Africa to manufacture 60% of its routine immunisation needs on the continent by 2040. Currently, Africa manufactures only about 1% of the vaccines it uses.

With this new facility, Aspen is able to offer filling, finishing and packaging capacity for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, with the first batches having already been manufactured.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to access this funding package arranged by IFC. Aspen’s teams are working tirelessly to optimise production of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for Africa at our manufacturing site in Gqeberha, South Africa,” says Stephen Saad, Aspen’s group chief executive. “We are actively seeking opportunities to further extend and capacitate Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing at this world-class production facility. Aspen is seeking to play a meaningful role in contributing to the objective of delivering the majority of Africa’s needs from production sites located in Africa.”

The IFC’s investment in Aspen comes under its global health platform, which was launched in July 2020 to help developing countries fight the coronavirus pandemic and increase their healthcare systems’ resilience. Including this new project, IFC has now committed US$1.82bn in Covid-19-related projects since March 2020, of which US$1.15mn has been directed specifically to supporting vaccines and related initiatives.