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The magic of Mali’s digital pharmaceutical registry

07 February 2024

A digital transformation supported by UNCTAD in the west African nation's pharmaceutical industry is paving the way for quicker import and distribution of life-saving medicines – all online.

© shutterstock/Riccardo Mayer | A girl is vaccinated in a village in Mali, which is developing a new system to speed up the approval of vital medicines and vaccines.

Imagine living in a country where urgent medical supplies take 18 months to be imported and distributed, putting people’s lives at risk and medical personnel in difficult situations where they must make life-and-death decisions without the right medicines at hand.

This could all change for Mali, a vast, landlocked west African nation where this has been the case for decades, as it digitizes – and radically speeds up – the marketing authorization of medicines.

Mali announced in November 2023 that it was working on the live rapid prototyping and testing of a new online pharmaceutical registry, developed in a joint project by UNCTAD, the country’s health ministry and the national pharmaceutical association.

It will improve the efficiency of the marketing authorization process, ensure the quality and safety of medicines, strengthen transparency and traceability, optimize resources, support the development of the pharmaceutical industry locally and fight against counterfeiting.

Through the online registry, Mali’s pharmaceutical importers, producers and distributors – and the government – will be able to remedy supply chain delays and tackle fraud and accessibility challenges more effectively.

Faster approval of vital medicines

The system will speed up the approval time for vital medicines and vaccines from 18 to three months, six times faster than in the past, while providing the government with full oversight.

The investment in the system was partly inspired by the urgency of pandemic preparedness, catalysed by COVID-19. And a growing impetus to tackle and solve some of the country’s biggest medical conundrums to serve its 22 million-strong population of mostly young people under the age of 25, by investing in digital-first solutions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Mali faces significant health challenges, such as persistently high maternal and child mortality rates and low basic child immunization coverage.

Its basic healthcare challenges are complicated by a relatively high burden of infectious diseases – particularly tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoea – and an increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases.

“This digital registry will have the power to save lives,” says Zeïnabou Sacko Keïta, Secretary-General of Mali’s National Employers' Council, which is supporting the roll-out of the initiative through its member organizations and offering expert advice.

“It’s a step towards a more modern, efficient health sector adapted to the specific needs of the Malian population,” Ms. Sacko Keïta said, highlighting that the registry is also crucial to improving the country’s public health within a framework of transparency.

How the registry works

The system allows pharmaceutical importers, producers and distributors to register themselves online. It also helps medical authorities to track the entry, production and distribution of pharmaceuticals and rapidly identify obsolete and unauthorized products.

“The registry provides much-needed data on where pharmaceuticals are present and where they need to be, across different types of medical establishments,” Ms. Sacko Keïta says.

UNCTAD has similar digitization projects, successfully implemented or ongoing in 20 countries, mostly developing, touching all areas of civic life and e-government – from business registration to trade portals and identification services. 

A powerful force for innovation

UNCTAD’s digital government platform and method is becoming a powerful force for innovation in nations wanting to leapfrog inefficient bureaucratic and paper systems and rationalize them in an online world.

“The impacts of digital systemic change are profound, especially for women and the most vulnerable,” Mr. Grozel says. “But they are also critical for creating the transparency and efficiency necessary to drive investment into the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Mali’s medical and pharmaceutical online registry was publicly announced at the World Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in October 2023.