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Zimbabwe : Lenias Hwenda, committed to a better access to medicines in Africa

Lenias Hwenda is a Zimbabwean immunologist and a global health policy expert. Through her organization, « Medicines for Africa », she works on improving access to safe and affordable medicines in Africa.

For Lenias Hwenda, healthcare and treatment should not be a luxury. As human rights, they must be accessible to all. This idea and her desire to impact people’s lives have driven her career as immunologist, health policy expert and pharmaceutical entrepreneur.

After getting her PhD in medicine in 2003, she started her career in 2006 as an immunologist at Oxford University in England and Rockfeller University in the US as part of a postdoctoral program. She conducted research, in particular on infectious diseases and the development of vaccines. She led a project testing microbicides to treat co-infections in HIV- infected patients, as well as a project to develop a DNA-vaccine against the flu virus.

Health negotiator

In 2009, after a Masters in « International Affairs, Negotiations and Policymaking », she involved in health policy negotiations, on various issues such as intellectual property policies and their impact on the access to safe and affordable medicines. In 2010, as health diplomat in the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, she worked with the African negotiating team on the development of the global response to influenza, the issue of counterfeit medicines and the challenges of health personnel. She has also intervened on issues related to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases as well as the access to vaccines, etc. Since 2013, she has been health policy consultant for multinational companies. She advised Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and McKinsey on market analysis issues for health products. Recently, she has co-chaired the global negotiations on « improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines and other health products » which were approved by the World Health Assembly in May 2019.

Democratizing the access to medicines in Africa

Given the challenge of African populations to have access to medicines, Lenias Hwenda created in 2015 « Medicines for Africa ». An organization that promotes access to safe and affordable medicines for buyers and African patients. It also aims to create market economies to reduce the cost of medicines in Africa. The organization ​​operates in South Africa and responds to the needs of patients across the continent, focusing on diseases that are not supported by international mechanisms such as cancer. It brings together professionals from health sector. It advises buyers on best purchasing practices and supply opportunities. It also provides a service to governments of African countries, to help them improve their medicines procurement and supply chain capacity and helps hospitals make better use of their health budgets.

In addition to her commitment to a better access to medicines in Africa, Lenias Hwenda intervenes on various global health issues. In the context of Covid-19 pandemic, she has recently published an article in The Lancet Global Health entitled « Covid-19 : time to plan for prompt universal access to diagnostics and treatments ». She calls on WHO to pool rights in technologies useful for the detection, prevention, control and treatment of the pandemic in order to guarantee that they will be available in a fair manner to all countries.