The East African Community (EAC) is a regional intergovernmental organization, comprising Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and was born out of the Organisation of African Unity and its efforts to promote regional integration in Africa. A free trade agreement (FTA) has been signed by the EAC members, and the EAC has officially had free movement of goods and services since July 2010. In March 2012, an EAC Medicine Registration Harmonization Programme was launched with the aim of having a harmonized and functional medicine regulatory system.
This research project aims to evaluate the impact of the EAC FTA and regulatory harmonization efforts on the availability and prices of maternal and child health commodities, focusing on the commodities of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children (UNCoLSC). Theoretically, the EAC FTA should create one large market that is more attractive to manufacturers and wholesalers, while at the same time lessening the administrative burden through regulatory harmonization. Both Tanzania and Uganda are “pathfinder” UNCoLSC countries, meaning they will be among the first countries to implement the UNCoLSC recommendations to increase access to life-saving commodities. This will give us the ability to compare accessibility between pathfinder and non-pathfinder countries. However, under the terms of the EAC FTA, implementation of efforts to increase access to UNCoLSC commodities in these two countries should benefit the entire EAC region.
The existing evidence regarding the impact of FTAs on access to medicines is predominantly focused on bilateral free trade agreements where high-income countries are requiring partner countries to adopt more stringent intellectual property protection. There has been little empirical research evaluating the impact of the free movement of goods or regulatory harmonization efforts within low-income countries. An African Free Trade Zone encompassing 26 countries is expected to be in operation by 2018. The evidence from this research project has the potential to assist policymakers with future decisions regarding the implementation of the African Free Trade Zone.