The recent decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria to reduce drug importation in the country from 60 to 40 per cent is a step in the right direction and a fulfilment of the yearning of stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry. Unsurprisingly, many analysts have hailed the policy as one that will significantly improve the lot of local pharmaceutical manufacturers in the country, while also salvaging Nigeria from being a dumping ground for all sorts of imported pharmaceutical products.
Special Adviser to the President on Health, Salma Anas-Ibrahim, made the decision known at a workshop in Abuja, organised to strengthen the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigeria’s cooperation strategy. She noted that the government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu is committed to bridging the gaps in the Nigerian health sector.
Should this new initiative be thoroughly implemented, it will reverse Nigeria’s inglorious status as one of the top importers of medications and a perpetual dependant on countries like India and China for active pharmaceutical ingredients. It will also expedite the country’s drive towards self-sufficiency in drug manufacturing, as well as attainment of universal health coverage.
However, to ensure that this policy does not become a pipe dream, as several other lofty ideas of government, concrete measures must be put in place towards its actualisation. Ideally, even prior to the declaration, the government should have dialogued with key stakeholders and players in the local pharma manufacturing industry to know their challenges and collaboratively proffer lasting solutions to them. From all indications, however, this never happened – portending a faulty and worrisome start that must be swiftly remedied by the government.
It must be emphasised that no government permutations can succeed in repositioning the local manufacturing industry, without actively engaging the key players and decisively tackling the multifarious challenges besetting it. Such encumbrances as inadequate infrastructure, scarce raw materials, unstable foreign exchange, stifling tariffs, insufficient manpower – due to brain drain – and many others must be holistically addressed before the announced reduction in importation can translate to positive changes in the industry.
Very pertinent in this regard are the views of Prof. Cyril Usifoh, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN). Reacting to the new policy, he said: “Stakeholders should have been properly consulted before such pronouncements were made. The reason is that, if you reduce importation from 60 to 40 per cent, we really don’t have many industries producing what we need for medicines. I’m talking about the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). We need to get the infrastructure and basic things necessary, so as to enable us produce these drugs. It is not just for the pharmaceutical industries to flourish, but will we be able to meet the medicines needs of the average Nigerian?” he said.
Moreover, major investment in technology and finance for local manufacturers are crucial for the realisation of the idea, as expressed by the National Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) Pharm. Adewale Oladigbolu. According to him, “We need a large pool of investments in the pharma sector. Government must ensure that local manufacturers have access to finance and technology. It must also ensure that all bureaucratic bottlenecks are reduced. If they do all these, then we will enjoy the policy, as stated. Walking the talk has always been the problem of Nigeria. We are not lacking in good ideas; it is the implementation that has been the problem. I pray that we do not fail this time around because a country that cannot provide medicine for its citizens is not secure.”
We believe that if the government can heed such vital advice as above in implementing the laudable initiative, its success will serve as a means of medicine security and revenue generation for the nation. Nigerians will not only have their medicine needs supplied locally, but the industry will also supply other countries in the West African sub-region, which will boost foreign exchange for the country.
Government must also demonstrate total commitment towards the actualisation of this policy by ensuring that the energy sector is at its best, as the current electricity generation and distribution levels in the country remain absolutely abysmal and antithetical to the aspirations of local manufacturers. One way to solve the power problems in the country is to deregulate the sector, which has been largely monopolised by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). With more players, there would be strict competition in terms of quality service provision and pricing.
We call on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, inaugurate a working committee that will drive the process of actualising this auspicious policy. Such committee, consisting of representatives of government and other key stakeholders and players in the pharmaceutical industry, must be equipped with the necessary, resources and conducive atmosphere it needs to brainstorm and take rightful decisions.