Expert insight

5 questions to… Professor Germain Ntono Tsimi, President of UYII-IFPMA Chair

27 July 2021

COVID-19 has galvanized the development of indigenous innovations and African innovators have responded with a wide range of creative inventions suited to address local public health challenges. In this spirit, IFPMA and the University of Yaoundé II – Cameroon have agreed to create the UYII-IFPMA Chair on “Health and Globalization: Laws, Policies and Market,” an entity whose mission is to develop, organize and conduct innovative and in-depth research activities and projects in the field of global health.

Professor Germain Ntono Tsimi – Former Head of the Division of Academic Affairs, Education and Research; Vice Dean in charge of Academic Affairs and programming at the Faculty of Laws and Political Science; and Head of Department of Academic Affairs and Cooperation at the University of Yaoundé II – will serve as the Chair President. Professor Ntono Tsimi discusses some of the details about how the Chair will work and what topics it will address.

1. What is the background of this collaboration between IFPMA and the University of Yaoundé?

At the University of Yaoundé II, we have been working already for several years on strengthening the intellectual property system in Africa because we believe it will help spur economic development on the continent. For example, we have been running a master’s program that focuses on intellectual property for over 10 years, which is done in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle (OAPI), as well as with the assistance of the Government of Japan. Our vision is to make our institution into a technopole for the social sciences, understood to host in one place several “high social technology” activities, including research centers, businesses, and university institutions. We aim to create a structured and forward-looking community dedicated to the development of social, inclusive innovation.

This is why we were so happy to collaborate with IFPMA, which represents innovative pharmaceutical companies around the world, to launch this project. I believe this collaboration will further empower the University to become a focal point for global health topics, enable a local African perspective, and contribute to the development of further understanding and dialogue on rules, policies and market dynamics. This will not only help strengthen the African health sector but can also help spur economic development.

2. What are some of the topics that will be addressed?

I believe that every person, wherever they live, should have a universal minimum standard of health to which all individuals are entitled. Due to COVID-19, we have seen a step backwards on these issues in Africa, not only because of the immense strain that has been put on the health systems, but also because it has impacted vulnerable populations disproportionately.

However, the pandemic has also highlighted the key importance of promoting strong public health policies and taking a holistic approach. This serves to help us recover from COVID-19 today but also help to better protect ourselves against pandemics in the future. We have also seen the importance of developing local skills, including amongst the young generation, and helping to create an environment that enables African entrepreneurship. I believe the young generation has great potential and that we need to take the right steps to help realize this potential by focusing on key areas. These include public health policies, global health diplomacy, strengthening health systems and supply chain, governance of medicines, the pharmaceutical industry, entrepreneurship, intellectual property and creating local medical solutions.

3. How will the Chair be structured and what will be its activities?

The Chair will consist mainly of three bodies: the administration; the scientific council; permanent and associate researchers, visiting professors and a team of PHD researchers. Building upon the University’s thematic experience with regards to IP and other health topics, there will be an inaugural course that will include a series of lectures. We will also create a summer school, research papers, projects, international colloquium and conferences pertaining to global health. We are also working on the project to put in place a specialized, interdisciplinary and international master’s program on the main topics of the Chair.

We want to help build up a local scientific community that focuses on the different parts of the puzzle, including, for example, how to create a conducive environment for technologies to go from the laboratory stage to development, to manufacturing and, ultimately, to patients. We also want to address scientific debates on the process of setting up African Medicines Agency since the Treaty concluded at the 32nd Ordinary Session of General Assembly of the African Union in 2019. By taking into consideration the African perspective and helping create further expertise, we believe we can help spur innovation locally, but also come up with new ideas that can be implemented elsewhere.

4. Who are some of the other actors that will be involved?

Whilst this structure will be hosted locally at the University of Yaoundé II campus, the goal is to work together with a wide range of African and international actors. We have seen the importance of taking a regional approach and collaborating with international organizations, such as the Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization.

Furthermore, we also believe in the importance of collaborating with the private sector and organizations, as well as all stakeholders working to improve global health and promote scientific innovation. The IFPMA represents some of the most innovative companies in the world, who have also contributed greatly to society, most recently by helping develop COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments in record times. The pandemic has shown us that, when we work together, we are stronger as a result and can achieve things that once seemed impossible.

5. What are the benefits of IP, specifically with regards to Africa and public health?

The COVID-19 pandemic has cemented the realization amongst Africa political leaders that our continent needs to collaborate more to strengthen health systems and create opportunities for economic investment in African solutions for African needs. We have already seen in other regions of the world that making a space attractive to private investment through effective application of intellectual property principles helps develop economic opportunities, including employment, tax revenues and foreign direct investment. Furthermore, when we discuss economic development in Africa, I believe it is important to ensure that we develop the innovative, social and technological parts of the economy. Progress in the health sector and pharmaceutical industry will help ensure sustainability and that the continent can compete in a global setting. Estimates suggest that, by 2050, Africa’s population will double, and the next generation is eager to bring the economy forward, with an effective healthcare system as a key enabling foundation.

Whilst many have suffered due to COVID-19, it is important to remember that Africa has performed better than expected in some areas as well. For example, we have seen very strong community participation in health systems and public support for safety measures. Our experience in finding creative solutions and resilience is also an asset we acquired from having dealt with several other infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and Cholera. It is important that we learn from what we did well and focus on strengthening global health, innovation and understanding of related IP issues to create a brighter future. Through my role as Chair President, and with the new partnership with IFPMA, I look forward to playing a part in this and am keen to build upon the momentum.