Achieving Self-Sufficiency in Drug Production

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It has become imperative, more than ever, to revisit the recent call by President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Pharm. (Mazi) Sam Ohuabunwa, to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to set up a special task force to build capacity and empower local pharmaceutical companies towards improved drug manufacturing. This task force, he suggested, must be established in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH).

No doubt, the expectation of many economic analysts and observers has been that going by Nigeria’s colossal imbuement with human and material resources, the country should be the hub for pharmaceutical manufacturing in the West African sub-region, if not in the entire Africa. Sadly, such expectation continues to be frustrated, as the country wobbles in meeting the drug needs of its citizenry, much less provide succour for those outside its borders.  Indeed, the on-going global pandemic has only helped to further expose the country’s over-reliance on drug importation for survival. At a point in the heat of the crisis, it became extremely difficult for hospitals to get medications for patients, when China temporarily stopped its supply of APIs and finished products to other countries of the world.

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We must emphasise that not only must the call by the PSN helmsman be taken with all seriousness, but the two key stakeholders – NAFDAC and FMOH – he has specifically called upon must see it as a distress call to save the nation from the dreadful jeopardies that come with lack of medicine security.  To successfully achieve this task, it is essential to critically examine the perennial challenges limiting the capacity of the few local drugs manufacturers in the country.

Interestingly, some of the challenges bedevilling the local pharmaceutical industry are glaring enough for any sincere stakeholder to be concerned about. For example, the lamentation about non-conducive business environment and paucity of needed infrastructures for manufacturing has nearly become a chorus among the key players.  These are issues that must be decisively addressed.

Other pivotal considerations for transforming local pharmaceutical manufacturing include a strong political will, provision of loans, standardisation of herbal medicines, existence of strong bond between researchers and manufacturers, provision of incentives to discourage brain drain among practitioners, and stronger legislations that will ensure patronage of made-in-Nigeria products.

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It is equally pertinent to state here that government’s lack of sincere commitment towards developing the country’s local capacities for drug production and a body language that seems to favour importation must be changed for the better. Policies must be formulated, while bottlenecks to foreign exchange by manufacturers must be removed to nurture the pharmaceutical industry, which has the potentials to provide employment for a huge number of the citizens. We believe that, if the large chunk of money committed to importation of drugs could be channelled towards local production, the industry will experience the needed transformation. Currently, it is estimated that Nigeria and other African countries spend over 14 billion dollars on drug importation annually.

Now that the long-awaited implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG) has begun, through the establishment of Coordinated Wholesale Centres (CWCs), as exclusively disclosed to Pharmanews by the PCN Registrar, Dr NAE Mohammed, we consider this a very positive signal that should tackle the problem of drug counterfeiting. This should relieve local pharmaceutical manufacturers of the protracted problem that has repeatedly decimated their revenues and sometimes reputation. However, government must ensure it walks the talk in enforcing the guidelines, without fear or favour.

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We also believe that the recently launched initiative of Bloom Public Health, in conjunction with the Lagos Business School, called the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Value Chain Mapping, is another means to accelerate the lofty national dream of self-sufficiency in drug production. The project, according to the CEO of Bloom Public Health, Professor Chimezie Anyakora, is to foster an enabling environment for the pharmaceutical ecosystem in Nigeria to function optimally without necessarily over-depending on foreign countries for raw materials. Fortunately, the revolutionary concept has gained the support of major stakeholders, such as NIPRD, NNMDA, the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas (NAPPSA) and Emzor Pharmaceuticals.

We call on government at all levels to do away with lip service and throw its weight behind these strategic projects in partnership with other agencies, parastatals, organisations and stakeholders. Such crucial support will ensure that overdependence on drug importation becomes history in the country.

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