– Says herbal pharmacopoeia needed for herbal medicine integration
Eminent Pharmaceutical industrialist and managing director of Mopson Pharmaceutical Limited, Pharm. (Dr) Michael Oyebanjo Paul, has advocated a review of the current foreign exchange (FX) policy to allow local industries, especially pharmaceutical manufacturers, have access to foreign exchange at an affordable rate.
Pharm. Paul, who recently marked his 75th birthday anniversary, made this appeal during an exclusive chat with Pharmanews at his company’s head office, in Lagos.
He noted that the operating environment of local industries would be a lot more conducive if foreign exchange could be readily available to manufacturers and businesses at an affordable rate. This, he said, will not only lead to improved capacity but also reduction in production cost, as well as improvements in the quality, affordability and competitiveness of locally-made products.
The Mopson boss praised the efforts of Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturers, whom he said have continue to produce top quality pharmaceutical products, some of which are dominating the West African market, despite the difficult operating environment.
He stressed that the industry indeed has the capacity to achieve more, if issues around the foreign exchange policy and others affecting the operating environment are adequately addressed.
Paul, who has been in the business of pharmaceutical production for over 50 years, also made a case for the integration of Nigerian herbal medicine into core pharmaceutical production, as done by countries like China and India.
As a member of the Federal Government delegation – under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration – that went to India and China to study and replicate their advancements in herbal medicine locally, he observed that the absence of a comprehensive herbal pharmacopeia remains a major hindrance to this integration.
The respected pharmacist revealed that the committee came up with vital recommendations which are yet to implemented. Below is the full text of the interview.
Permit us to begin by congratulating you on your 75th birthday. How do you feel at 75 and how have you been able to navigate the vicissitudes of life over the years?
Thank you. First, let me appreciate God for His grace upon my life. Let me also say that the first 15 to 20 years in the life of a 75-year-old man are not really part of his productive life because learning, tutelage and education are his major preoccupation.
After 20 years, you now begin to cope with life. You learn to be on your own. You understand life itself more deeply. So, in my life, Pharmacy has taken more of my life than any other thing. I started making things happen when I graduated at the age of 25. So, I can only talk about what has happened since I graduated, because Pharmacy is my reference point.
I thank God that when I started, there were very few people having manufacturing companies. A large number of people manufacturing were foreigners. We had May and Baker, we had Wellcome, and a few others. So, the facilities were not many, but we tried to take what we had to achieve what we needed. In those days, there were not even plastic bottles or the kind of packaging that we have now.
We had to go from one hospital to the other and be picking Winchester bottles, which were used to bring things into the country. We had to go around the hospitals picking plastic bottles and be washing them so that we could produce something for the local people. This was the situation.
Presently, when you look at Nigeria, we are making all types of plastic or glass bottles of any size or shape. Now you can even specialise or customise your own bottles or plastics. So packaging was the initial problem.
Now the second problem was the active components. All the actives were coming from abroad. To date, we still import our raw materials. Then the last one was treatment of the water we were using. You understood the BPC itself. It was even written, cooled and boiled here. That was what was in the BPC then. But now you have to produce harrow water in a special way to produce your products. And the environment has changed – where you have HVAC, instead of AC. Now things are improving.
We are moving close to ideal production that can guarantee the quality of our products and make them more exportable. Nigeria imports a lot of products. If Nigeria can fulfil all these conditions, as set out by NAFDAC, Nigeria will produce enough for the rest of Africa. So we are still coming up but we have not yet even met half of our local needs as a people in this country. People still import.
Over the years, many people have advocated integration of our herbal medicine into core pharmacy practice, as is being done in countries like India and China. Given your experience in this industry, why do you think we have had problems advancing in this area?
Well, when you look at it, there was a time the government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo tried to move in this direction. Obasanjo tried his best. I think among the government that ever came up in Nigeria, Obasanjo tried in this regard. He instituted a committee to study this. The committee went to India and China to study their herbal system. Some progress was made. I was part of the committee. We went to India. We went to China. We went to some other countries.
Many of these countries have advanced so much, especially India and China. You know, in India, they have developed a compendium on their own and formed a pharmacopoeia for their herbal drugs. China even is more elaborate and one of the things you see in the Chinese model is the incorporation of acupuncture, where you can anesthetise somebody for hours with a needle. It started in China. It is not a magic. It is something that you can repeat. You can do acupuncture, even in this place, which means it is a science; it is not a myth.
Nigeria started it and the reports were given. We formed a database. A professor led the group to develop a database. Everything was done. The reports are still in the Ministry of Health, but nothing is being done about it.
But what is herbal medicine itself? Herbal medicine is medicine originating from the human beings that live in a community in a certain biological environment. They developed treatments for their local ailments.
Now, when you look at it, you will discover that all the herbs we have in Nigeria today have three sources. Number one is those that are inspirational. This is the scenario where you see somebody just going into the forest and is inspired to identify what plant can cure what. That is the origin of herbal drugs. It is inspirational. It is spiritual.
Thereafter, the second source or stage includes those that are inherited. The third source or stage involves those being developed and modernised. That is the stage we are now. So the first thing is inspiration, then followed by heritage, and now by development. But, till now, the development of herbal medicine in Nigeria is not impressive. So many pharmaceutical industries are gearing themselves towards orthodox medicine for curing health issues that have been identified by the orthodox system. So many industries are probably not interested in herbal medicine. They may become interested in the future but as at now they are not interested because there is lack of strong policy framework and support. So the few you see are those who are bold.
Dosage is another thing. You drink and take herbal medicine without specified dosage. It is only when scientists are involved that we can then say we can make it into tablets. Some have been made into tablets. But the most serious handicap of herbal medicine is the dosage. And it will take pharmacologists to achieve and standardise this.
Who are pharmacologists? They are scientists and specialists who are very knowledgeable about the effect of drugs on living tissue. They look at the effect of the drug on the heart, on the skin, on the stomach and so on. These are the people who will investigate and then tell us this is the dose and this is the effect. As long as this has not been done, the orthodox machines cannot be made to produce them. Though some people are trying but the greatest problem is that the drug study has not been conclusive.
I hope I have been able to clarify why pharmaceutical companies are not going into its production yet. This is because there is no compendium, no pharmacopoeia. If Nigeria can produce pharmacopoeia of local herbs or a Nigerian Herbal Pharmacopoeia, then we can start to produce.
As a follow up to the last question, we are in a transition programme and a new government is coming in. As an experienced stakeholder, if you are to advise or draw up a policy on this, where do you think we can begin from, so as to be able attain the level where countries like India and China are?
There is a laboratory which the government set up one time for research only. I don’t know what the situation of that laboratory is right now. Nevertheless, it is a good step in the right direction.
Everything we are doing is trade. The greatest problem Nigeria has is the unsteady dollar. You can start up something good and then the unsteady nature of our foreign exchange market will frustrate you. Getting the dollar at an affordable rate can be a serious challenge. I don’t know why the government finds it difficult to stabilise the naira.
And one thing you will find out is that there are more people who are agents of the CBN who are selling more money than the CBN itself is selling to the industry. If the government can control that, naira should not be more than 360 naira to a dollar.
When you look at it, most of the increase in exchange rate is caused by agents. These agents are buying from the CBN while industries are buying from the black market. Why black market? In Nigeria, the difference between the black market and the government market is unimaginable. It has brought down the capitalisation of many industries.
So if the government can stabilise the dollar reasonably, then anybody – especially industries – can go to the bank and access foreign exchange. They can do it sectorally, especially food and drug.
What are some of the landmark achievements of Mopson Pharmaceuticals over the years that have affected the people positively, and what do you want to leave as a legacy to the younger generation?
What happened was that when we started, we were the first to produce chewable vitamins. If anybody wants to dispute it, let him come. We were the first to produce chewable vitamin C. We were the first to produce stable vitamin C syrup that is adjudged more stable than the Rosa. The Rosa was the most popular in the industry. But our vitamin C has been tested and found to be not less than 95 per cent stable in a ten-year stability study.
Also, our Ascorbyl syrup is still the most stable syrup in the market today. And so, being the most stable, we have made it 300 milligram, instead of 100 milligram. And that is why the potency is high. So, instead of taking it three times daily, you only take five milligram once daily. And because of the high stability, it is still the leading high quality vitamin C around, even among foreign brands.
Our vitamin C is a product of our research. It is a product of the research we did with three Nigerian universities, including University of Lagos, University of Ibadan and University of Ife. We called them for the research and we all participated and produced it. All the factors for achieving stability were obeyed.
At 75, what lessons do you think you can pass on to the younger generation, especially as it has to do with management of talent, as well as management of the body and mind, so that they can be healthy in old age?
I am very grateful to God for the privilege to attain this age. My message to the younger one is to be disciplined, focused and ambitious. If you have a focus, no matter how old you are, your focus drives you. You must be focused. I started at about the age of 25 and this means that I have been in pharmaceutical production for about 50 years. I graduated in 1973 and this is 2023.
Your ambition continues to drive you and your ambition continues to keep you on. If you are ambitious, you will set goals for yourself and you want to attain them. A man without ambition has no goal. You have to keep your head straight and remain focused to be able to achieve your goal.
If you are a producer, you are a giver. As a producer, you see what others are doing and that propels you to do more. In fact, at some point you are not doing it for your generation alone but for generations to come.