GSK stops Nairobi production as high costs and low sales eat into revenue

Saturday October 15 2022

A vaccine packing line at a factory belonging to British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. PHOTO | AFP


Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is the latest multinational firm to exit Kenya amid below-budget sales and global overhaul of the firm.

The firm, which makes Sensodyne, Augmentin and Panadol, will cease operation at its Nairobi Industrial Area plant and instead adopt a distributor-led model to supply the region with its products.

The move, which a GSK spokesman confirmed Wednesday, would result in an unspecified number of job losses.

GSK will join a list of global manufacturers, including Reckitt Benckiser (the maker of Dettol), Cadbury and Colgate-Palmolive, which have stopped local production following increasing costs and an uneven business environment.

The exit of GSK comes as the firm races to overhaul its global business in shifts that saw it spin off its consumer health unit, which owns the Sensodyne and Panadol brands.

GSK turned down a £50 billion bid from Unilever for the unit at the end of last year, arguing that it undervalued the company.


The review of Kenya operations comes nearly five years after the pharmaceutical giant announced it was cutting back operations in Africa in search of competitive business.

It stopped marketing medicines to healthcare professionals in 29 African markets, but continued running local operations in Kenya and Nigeria while retaining representative offices in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana.

“Yesterday, we informed employees in Kenya that we will move to a direct distribution model and our operations will be transferred to third-party distributors,” GSK said in an e-mail response to the Business Daily.

“We will continue to supply our needed medicines and vaccines in Kenya, and we will work with our distribution partners towards a smooth transition in 2023.”

Following closure of the Kenyan plant, the firm is now left with operations in six African markets – Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa.

In Kenya, GSK has made a big impact with its malaria and HIV/Aids medication and over-the-counter antibiotics and painkillers.

The pharma created the groundbreaking malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, which was piloted in Kenya last year, aimed at taming deaths especially among children.

Its exit follows disappointing sales for many pharmaceutical companies in the region in the face of competition from cheaper generics from India and locally manufactured medicines.

Kenya has struggled to retain and attract multinational manufacturers, but it has become a magnet for technology firms and financial service companies seeking a hub in Africa.

But industrialists, especially multinationals, are constantly on the hunt for bargain production locations and tax havens.

A market index report released by global strategy consultants Wilson Perumal & Company in 2019 labelled Kenya as a complex market for foreign firms seeking to invest and establish a presence in Africa.

- This article was first published in the Business Daily