What role does your institute play in promoting health research in Tanzania?
PROF. YUNUS D. MGAYA Even though we are called the National Institute for Medical Research, our research encompasses all elements of healthcare, including bimedicine, social determinants of health, and health systems. We are expected to monitor, control, and coordinate health research and have a directorate here responsible for health research coordination. We are mandated to promote or provide facilities for the training of local personnel to carry out scientific research. We evaluate the scientific and ethical merits of all health research proposals before research is conducted and evaluate the findings. We are also mandated to establish a system of administration of the findings of health research carried out in Tanzania and promote their practical application to improve or advance the general health of the people of Tanzania. In simple words, NIMR is the advisory organ of the government of Tanzania in all matters pertaining to health research. We also work closely with other stakeholders in the health sector, both locally and internationally.
DR. HONORATI MASANJA The institute began as a small Swiss Tropical Institute field laboratory. Slowly the institute developed into a small research center, where university students from Muhimbili College would come for field practical in parasitology, microbiology, and so on. Over time, the institute has grown from 150 people to a high of 1,300 in 2012, when we were undertaking big projects such as clinical trials to test malaria drugs, vaccines, and Vitamin A supplementation, evaluating health systems performance through demographic surveillance platforms. We are well known for our malaria research, although we are much more diversified than that. For example, we have the largest group in the region working on the control of malaria vectors. Our environmental, health, and ecologic sciences focus on understanding and devising malaria control strategies, using vector control as well as other devices for controlling the transmission of malaria from mosquitos to humans.
What opportunities exist for private companies to invest in the healthcare sector in Tanzania?
YDM There are many opportunities. Many diseases, including malaria, trypanosomiasis, cholera, lymphatic filariasis, and trachoma, actively impede economic development in the country. There are two ways to combat malaria. One is by directly attacking the mosquito itself through vector control. There is huge potential for business in this realm. Pharmaceuticals for these methods are mostly produced by large companies, but there is also the potential to produce these at the local level and sell them cheaper and more easily to the market. Another opportunity comes through the provision of technology. Certain types of technology are available in Tanzania; however, in many other cases, it is a matter of transferring technology here.
HM The government's budget for healthcare for 2017 is around TZS1.1 trillion (USD487 million), up from TZS800 billion (USD354 billion) the previous year, which is a substantial increase; however, it still leaves room for other players to enter the market in a big way. For one, I see a gap in the market in specialized medicine and medical care. Also, while we have an ICT incubator, the application of technology to health sciences has not been exploited in full. Not only will this create jobs, but it will also create wealth in the health space, partnering business people with medical specialists. Ifakara will create an innovation fund to help bridge these groups and forge promising projects.
Why is a multi-stakeholder approach necessary to tackle the main health issues affecting Tanzania?
YDM In terms of health issues, we deal with more than one sector; a number of diseases and health problems, such as malaria, cholera, trypanosomiasis, Rift Valley fever, dengue, and so on, are a result of activities beyond the mandate of Ministry of Health. A policy must take into account the need to have all the important players involved or at least considered. When NIMR puts research on the table to be transformed down the line into practice and policy, we are cognizant of the existence of other sectors.
HM The ministry is pioneering a PPP structured organization, the Association of Private Healthcare Facilities of Tanzania, which incorporates the private sector into the provision of health services in Tanzania. Such partnerships could be important in pharmaceutical industries and diagnostics in particular. There is space, for example, in the Economic Processing Zone (EPZ) for production of drugs for chronic diseases like TB and HIV. This is currently being done in collaboration between a Tanzanian company and German investors. The current president encourages investment of industrialization in Tanzania, and this certainly extends to the diagnostic supply industry.