For Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in drug production, there is need for government and other relevant stakeholders to draw a 10-year innovative master plan that must be driven with passion and selflessness.
This was one of the submissions made by the Managing Director, Bio-Generics Nigeria Limited, Pharmacists Osak Uwubanmwen, during a recent interview with Pharmanews.
The Canada-based pharmacist, also pointed out that the recent increase in the fees for drug registration, renewal, as well as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) inspection, is inevitably increasing the price of genuine drugs in Nigeria, a development he said is likely to make consumers patronise fake drugs, usually with their attractive cheaper prices.
He further called on the government to properly fund the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) so that they can carry out their regulatory functions more effectively. This, he said, will prevent the agencies from having to impose exorbitant fees and fines that could end up being counterproductive to the industry.
Below is the full text of the interview:
Tell us briefly about yourself
I am Osak Uwubanmwen a pharmpreneur, pharmacist, and entrepreneur. I got my pharmacy degree in 1992 from the University of Benin and worked in the pharma industry with a few multinationals before relocating to Canada in 2005.
The reason for my relocation was basically to be able to bring the best of my entrepreneurial abilities to life. My first Nigerian organisation, Bio-Generics Nigeria Limited, was registered in 2003 but I did not have the needed funds based on how big the dream was. Nigerian banks rarely gave loans to people like me to fund our enterprise and if they did, the interest rate was often unreasonable. Thus, going to Canada provided me an opportunity to have the best of two worlds and access to single-digit economy loans to invest in Nigeria.
My first Canadian company, Mega Pharm Limited, was registered and started operations in 2007. Today, I also have investments in medical clinics and pharmacies chain under the banner, Eureka Prescriptions Inc., in Canada and Shop Drug Mart in Nigeria.
I recently diversified into information technology and in the next few months, I and my partners in India and America will launch a food application, called Globacitieats. It is an app that gives travellers all over the world an opportunity to track their cultural foods in different restaurants in the city of visit and have some fun dining in or ordering online.
In comparison with the pharmaceutical sector in Canada where you are currently based, what do you think is missing in the Nigeria pharmaceutical landscape?
The Nigerian economy has suffered in the most recent years, especially the poor ability to manage the exchange rate. When I started business with India in 2011, the Indian rupee was exchanging at 68 rupees to a dollar and, today, it is at 72 rupees to a dollar. In the case of Nigeria, the exchange rate has moved from N125 to about N500 to a dollar. This means that no matter how well you plan, the management of the economy would put you to the test.
Nigeria is an import-dependent economy and to drive local production of goods and services, the exchange rate must be maintained and kept stable. Exchange rate is important for planning and the needed economic growth. The dual exchange rate makes things even worse. Sometimes, it is impossible to get the dollar at the official central bank rate. So, how do you import goods, using the parallel rate and benchmark your sales, using the central bank rate? In Canada, things are stable and the currency is, too; thus Canada has been able to meet most of its local demand for pharmaceuticals and even exports to the United States of America.
Nigeria still depends on importation of drugs. How do you think the country can attain greater heights in local drug development and production?
Hopefully, with the new Dangote refinery coming on stream, Nigeria should be able to drive the production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and start some local production of pharmaceuticals to meet some local demand, as we cannot continue to be dependent on India and China.
The Nigerian economy needs better management. The stability of the exchange rate, as mentioned previously, is particularly important. The Central Bank of Nigeria needs to grant loan facilities to local pharmaceutical companies directly and stop the game of making loans accessible to the local industry through the local banks that frustrate this process.
I give an example. Just a few years ago, we used our international contacts to secure a loan of 10 million dollars to build a mid-sized manufacturing plant in Nigeria; but the issue we had was getting equity partners or get the loans syndicated through a local Nigerian bank. The only Nigerian bank we got gave us almost near impossible conditions. Even issues as trivial as the project engineer, they insisted they must appoint, and sensing the real danger that these guys were more interested in the hostile takeover of a thriving young pharma company, we had to call off the deal.
What is your reaction to the influx of fake drugs in the Nigerian market?
There has always been a history of fake, adulterated, and substandard drugs in Nigeria. And as long as the main illegal open drug markets in Onitsha, Lagos, Aba, and others remain, this will always be the case, no matter what we do.
The other thing we need to look at is the effectiveness of the regulatory bodies – PCN and NAFDAC. While credit must be given to these bodies for what they have been able to achieve, more is expected of them.
I would like to add that the local fees for registering drugs and renewal of registration have gone up recently. Also now the local registrant is required to pay the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) inspection fees, which is close to ten thousand dollars. Things like these will continue to drive up the cost of genuine drugs. With this, the cheaper circulating fake, adulterated, and substandard drugs become more appealing to consumers.
I would like to appeal to government agencies in Nigeria to understand that whatever they do has direct and indirect impacts on the lives of Nigerians. If good and wholesome medications do not cost so much, maybe there would be lesser demand and market for the fake, substandard and adulterated ones.
What would be your message to the concern authorities on how to stop the anomaly?
We all know the solution and for years, the talk has always been on the lack of will on the part of the Nigerian government. Close all illegal open drug markets and encourage more pharmacists to go into the wholesaling and retailing of pharmaceuticals.
Government should properly fund PCN and NAFDAC so that they can carry out their regulatory functions effectively. These agencies should not become tax collectors to become effective, as such acts would drive up the cost of good and wholesome medicines. They are already empowered but there is a need for the National Assembly to legislate new laws banning the sale of medicines in illegal open markets.
Finally, there is need to set a higher penalty – like a minimum of 20 years jail term for those that deal in fake, substandard, and adulterated medicines.
Till now, there is professional rivalry between pharmacists and medical doctors in Nigeria, what do you think is the way forward sir?
In Canada where I make most of my living, there is harmony in the healthcare sector. The physicians see the pharmacists as partners in the care of the patients and work as a team. None is superior and none is inferior.
In Alberta, which is my province in Canada, I care for the patients in all totality. I can write a prescription for them, based on immediate need; I can even order a laboratory test for my patient from my pharmacy because I have a Practitioner Identification Number (Prac ID) and the physician can view all these results online in the patient’s profile.
Let me add, however, that I do not own the patient; the physician does. So, whatever I do with the patient I must document and communicate with the physician through electronic fax and the physician is expected to add this information to the patient’s profile on his computer. Rarely does any disagreement arise and if it does, the physician would also respond to me all documented.
In recent years, the government has driven an expanded scope of practice for pharmacists as it is cost-effective and saves lives. I do hope Nigeria gets to this point someday.
What is your message to the Nigeria government regarding the advancement of the pharmaceutical industry?
The Nigerian government needs a rethink on how healthcare, as a business, is done and run. This because the old ways seem to have failed. We need to bring innovation and start thinking out of the box. This is the 21st century. You cannot expect to get a different result when we keep doing things the same old way. If we are to be self-sufficient in drug production, we must draw a ten years innovative master plan and drive it with passion, devoid of personal greed.
Bio-Generics is the sponsor of the PSN annual integrity award. Currently, a whopping sum of one million naira is given to the winner, and the company plans to increase this to five million? What is Bio-Generics goal in all this?
The Nigerian hospital pharmacist is often the most neglected pharmacy professional in Nigeria. For a long time, they suffered wage stagnation, and yet they work under very challenging circumstances to produce great professional results, and their input to patient care cannot be underestimated. As an indigenous Nigerian company, my dream is to ensure proficiency amongst various healthcare professionals, and supporting hospital pharmacists is one way of doing this.
This is not the only support we give to hospital pharmacists, however. Just this month, we are giving full sponsorship to two hospital pharmacists that are going for their fellowship award with flight and hotel accommodation. We also support other healthcare professionals. Every year, we sponsor about 50 healthcare professionals in various capacities.
Three editions of the award have been given. Would you say you are comfortable with the process and outcome so far?
I must commend the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and the subcommittee of the integrity award for a job well done so far and we expect the same high standard in all future nominations and awards.
What is Bio-Generics future plan for the Nigeria pharmaceutical market?
Nigeria is a big market, despite the inherent challenges. In keeping to the promise I made many years ago, we continue to invest in Nigeria to empower Nigerians and reduce the unemployment rate. We plan to build a manufacturing facility within the next five years. This will be our second attempt. Although the first attempt failed, this time around, we are bringing in our funds from Canada and secure additional loans from our foreign partners to ensure that this is actualised.
Nigeria is our country, and it is only we, the citizens, that can make it better and great as a nation. Hopefully, Bio-Generics Nigeria will continue to dominate the Nigerian prescription drugs segment and in the various specialties we play in.
COVID-19 is still on rampage, the world over. As a pharmacist based in an advanced country, kindly share with Nigerians first-hand information about the situation over there and what would be your advice to Nigerians and the government?
COVID-19 is real, and many nations have lost many people. Countries like America, Brazil, and Mexico have lost a great number of people. We have been lucky in Canada as death based on the percentage of the population seems lower than many developed nations. Our government was proactive and was profoundly serious in ensuring that lockdown was effectively done.
Unlike many countries where people demonstrated against lockdown, our nationals in Canada did no such thing; this attitude helped in ensuring that we all did our part – the self-prevention methods – like masking, hand washing and using hand sanitizers. Although Canada has been late in starting vaccination, hopefully as promised by our prime minister, most of the target group would be vaccinated by September 2021.
Nigeria, like most nations in the sub-Saharan Africa, has not also suffered many casualties and hopefully, the Nigerian government continues to work to keep it this way. Kudos to Nigeria for starting the vaccination and I do hope the process will be transparent and those that need it the most get the vaccination.
What is your message to pharmacists in Nigeria?
To the Nigerian pharmacist, please endeavour to fly the professional flag high all the time, be it in public or private; and remember that whatever we do as professionals reflects on all of us, big or small.