Fiscal policies, infrastructural decay, bane of Nigeria’s pharma industry – DPS, NASS

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Pharm (Dr) Ali Umoru

Pharm (Dr) Ali Umoru is the director of Pharmaceutical Services at Nigeria’s National Assembly, Abuja. A thorough-bred leadership professional, he is one of the Nigerian pharmacists who believe that excellent legislation can spur the Nigerian health sector and indeed, the pharmaceutical landscape to greater heights.

In this exclusive interview with PATRICK IWELUNMOR, he sheds light on the intricacies of his office and how it is helping to shape the achievement of better outcomes for the entire pharmacy industry in Nigeria. Excerpts:

Sir, kindly tell us about your educational background and career trajectory up to the present time.

I attended Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, where I obtained the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree (BPharm.) in 1990. I also obtained a postgraduate certificate in Health Economics from the World Bank institute, in Washington DC; a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA); as well as an M.Phil and a PhD in Public Administration, specialising in Pharmaceutical Policy.

I also attended executive certification programmes at the World Bank (USA), Harvard University (USA), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (UK), Oxford University (UK) and University of Westminster (UK), among others.

I joined the services of the National Assembly in 1993 as pharmacist I and rose to the post of director, Pharmaceutical Services, in 2017.

How has it been directing and co-ordinating the dispensation of pharmaceutical services at a critical arm of government such as the National Assembly?

My job as the director, Pharmaceutical Services, entails providing pharmaceutical services to members and staff of the parliament, and technical assistance to the various parliamentary committees on pharmaceutical policy. It has been so far so good.

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Pharmaceutical services delivery in a setting like the National Assembly has its own peculiarities, especially when you are dealing with diverse demographics of highly placed and enlightened patients. I am lucky to work with the full complements of professionals, with very high ethical standard.

Being the DPS in this crucial and law-making arm of government, in what ways has your office influenced the enactment of laws that seek to advance the cause of the health ministry in general and the pharmaceutical industry in particular?

Law-making is an elaborate, procedural process. Political interventions and intense lobbying is required at all stages. This I have been doing with other stakeholders over the years in respect of Pharmacy-related bills. We try as much as possible to cultivate a healthy and cordial relationship with pharmacists and pharmacy-friendly legislators to promote and protect the profession of pharmacy.

Talking about the recent passage of the much talked about Pharmacy Bill. What does this portend for pharmacy practice in Nigeria?

The new Act will refine and redefine pharmacy practice in Nigeria in all its ramifications. The impediments to the regulatory functions of the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (PCN) have been addressed by the law. The new law will strengthen the legal and administrative capacity of the council to carry out its regulatory functions.

Some members of the National assembly are pharmacists and yet it appears they are more interested in politics than in furthering the cause of their real profession. What can you say about this?

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My experience over the past decades at the National Assembly shows that pharmacists elected, either as Senators or Members of House of Representatives, see themselves first and foremost as pharmacists. However their level of commitment to politically furthering the interest of the profession differs. All we need is a strong lobby group and a proactive political action plan encompassing all stakeholders to politically further and protect the interest of pharmacists and the pharmacy profession.

Like their counterparts in the medical profession, pharmacists, especially the younger ones are trooping out of Nigeria, in search of greener pastures. Don’t you think this will further worsen the already precarious situation of the health sector in Nigeria?

It will definitely affect negatively the delivery of pharmaceutical services, especially at the sub-national level. It is a globally acknowledged fact that high pharmacist density is an indication of the economic development of any nation. There is need for the government to make the practice environment favourable to curb the brain drain.

Most of the problems facing the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria are issues government can fix. Don’t you think you can use your office’s proximity to the lawmakers to ensure that issues like lack of electricity, forex problem and the overdependence on India and China for pharmaceutical raw materials are decisively addressed by the appropriate committees within the National Assembly?

Most of these problems have to do with monetary and fiscal policies of the federal government and the general infrastructural decay. Effective implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act will speed up the development of the petrochemical industry, which is essential for the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and other raw materials.

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Faithful implementation of the various executive orders issued by the presidency will also assist in scaling up local production of pharmaceuticals. The stakeholders have to liaise with the legislature to perform their oversight function regularly and appropriately in these regards. The aggregation and optimisation of all these policies will reduce overdependence on India and China.

How would you describe the 95th PSN conference in Jos? Some observers say it is one of the worst in terms of the participation of pharmaceutical companies who could not be there physically due to the high cost of travel and other logistics. What did you witness in Jos?

In my opinion, the participation at the Jos conference by both pharmacists and the pharmaceutical companies was excellent. I was there and the organisation was also excellent

What should Nigerians be expecting from the National Assembly in terms of laws that would enhance and strengthen pharmaceutical practice in the country?

The enactment of the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria Act, the National Health insurance Authority Act and, indeed, the National Health Act, will strengthen the health sector space in Nigeria, especially the pharmaceutical sector.

All the National Assembly needs do is effective oversight and robust budgetary provision. The amendment or re-enactment of the law establishing NAFDAC by the National Assembly will also go a long way to strengthen the pharmaceutical sector.

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