Ohuabunwa, Mohammed, Others Charge Pharmacists on Local Therapy for COVID-19

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– As Anukwu bags NAPA’s “Man of the Year” award

With the unrelenting onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, key stakeholders in the pharmaceutical sector – including the President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa; Registrar, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), Dr Elijah Mohamed; Chairman, Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP), Pharm. Ignatus G. Anukwu; and the outgoing Chairman, Nigerian Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA), Professor Emmanuel Ibezim – have charged pharmacists in the country to come up with a local therapy to combat the disease.

The call was made at the 19th NAPA National Scientific Conference 2021, held in Nsukka, Enugu State, from 16 to 20 August, with the theme “Challenges and Opportunities in Advancing the Pharma Sector in Nigeria: Lesson from the COVID-19 Pandemic”.

While declaring the conference open, the Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Charles A. Igwe, commended NAPA for its commitment to providing solution to challenges in the nation’s pharma sector.

He further charged pharmacists in the country to intensify research efforts that will lead to the end of COVID-19 and other challenges facing the health sector.

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Pharm.(Mazi) Sam Ohuabunwa

“Come up with ideas, carry out research, work together and produce a COVID-19 vaccine. I want to challenge you pharmacists in the academia to find a solution to the challenges in pharma sector”, the VC said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the event, Mazi Ohuabunwa stated that pharmacists in academia play a vital role in every society, stressing that without them, there wouldn’t be other pharmacists. He however said the priority of all pharmacists in the country now should be creation of local contents.

Ohuabunwa said: “The essence of academia is to solve problems. It is all about intellectualism, to create new things. This is why research is very important. PSN is now sponsoring research. Our priority should be creation of local contents.

“The theme of NAPA conference this year is apt. Pharmacists are solution-providers and the theme is pointing in that direction; so it is our job as pharmacists to produce drugs that will treat COVID-19; others should join us in achieving this goal.”

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Also, while delivering his goodwill message, the PCN Registrar, Mohammed, who was represented by the Zonal Director of the Council, Ifeanyiwa Mary, pointed out that the theme of the NAPA conference was relevant, considering the high level of damage that COVID-19 had done to the entire globe.

The PCN boss therefore called on pharmacists, especially those in the academia, to embark on intensive research and development works.

“Research and funding of research is key in advancing the pharma sector. The roles of NAPA in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overemphasised. Pharmacists in academia should prioritise research and development. This will help in developing local active ingredients against the pandemic,” Mohammed said.

In his remarks at the event, the chairman of NAIP also stressed the urgency of developing a local medicine that will treat COVID-19.

“Pharmacists in academia have big roles to play in the development of the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector,” he said. “NAPA should rise up. Developing our own medicine is the way to go.”

Earlier in his opening address, the outgoing Chairman of NAPA, Prof. Ibezim, noted that now is the best time to advance the pharmaceutical industry, stressing that COVID-19 had further exposed the country’s vulnerability and overdependence on other countries.

According to Ibezim, “The pandemic has widely opened our eyes to so many important and strategic areas we had overlooked in the time past. If there is any time we need to advance the pharma sector in Nigeria, it is now. The pandemic has shown us that we really have a long way to go in the sector.

“Just few weeks into the pandemic, when our age-long sources of pharmaceuticals all closed their borders, we were thoroughly stranded and grounded. It dawned on us, starkly and strangely, that we had nothing to boast of. When India, China, USA and the rest of the world, recoursed to their products and reserves, we suddenly realised that we were acutely and senselessly dependent on them for almost everything.

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“Can this experience be the wake-up call we need to stir us to dust up our pharmaceutical industries where we left them, see what remains of them, and repackage and re-model them to begin purposeful and strategic production? Can we begin to change our consumerism attitude and embrace productivity? Can we rise from being overdependent to becoming dependable?”

Ibezim noted that NAPA is making effort to live up to expectations and take its rightful place in the pharmaceutical sector.

He said: “NAPA, as a body, has risen through the ranks and is fast becoming a force to reckon with in the Nigerian pharmaceutical world. Having passed through her teething and challenging stage, she is gradually poised to take her rightful place in the Nigerian pharmaceutical space.

“While the pandemic raged, our members in almost all the branches rose to the task and produced standard sanitizers that served their various campus communities. Some branches went ahead to produce drugs and remedies for COVID-19, some of which are currently undergoing final stages of trials with the regulatory bodies.

“NAPA, in collaboration with NAIP, successfully launched two drug products, NANIP – a cough syrup anchored by NIPRD; and PINNAN, a topical formulation anchored by UNILAG.  These two products are currently awaiting commercialisation. I must confess at this point that NAPA has not reached her zenith. There are still greater heights to attain and greater mountains to surmount.”

Also making his remarks, the Chairman of the occasion, Senator (Pharmacist) Sadiq Umar, representing Kwara North, expressed worries that COVID-19 is already displaying resistance to certain vaccines, urging pharmacists and researchers to work hard to come up with a local therapy.

“COVID-19, especially the Delta variant, is already showing resistance to vaccine. This is why experts in the pharma sector need to come up with drugs that can fight the virus in Nigeria. Pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists and chemists in Nigeria should try to produce a therapy that will fight the pandemic”, the senator said.

The keynote speaker, who is also the Chancellor of Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State, Professor Gregory Ibeh, in his address, stated that research institutes and colleges of pharmacies have big roles to play in advancing the nation’s pharma sector.

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The chancellor, who was ably represented by the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Augustine A. Uwakwe, lamented that there are many challenges facing the pharma sector which are still begging for attention. He charged pharmacists to take the bull by the horn and be at the forefront to provide solution to the challenges.

“Opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria are huge. Nigeria is one of the richest countries, if not the richest in the world, in terms of herbs; yet about 80 per cent of the drugs in the country are being imported. There is need for manpower training for existing and upcoming industries in the pharmaceutical sector. However, pharmacists need the support of the government to be able to perform their roles,” the keynote speaker said.

Ibeh also explained why PSN and NAPA should be allowed to play active roles in the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), saying: “I am yet to know the role NAPA and PSN is playing in NCDC because, to me, it appears the two associations are not being given the rightful place in the centre now. If PSN and NAPA are not given the right place in the centre, there might be more problem when another pandemic surfaces.”

A major highlight of the event was the conferment of the NAPA “Man of the Year Award” on the Chairman, Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP), Pharm. Ignatus G. Anukwu, for his track record of leading innovation, outstanding performance and leadership role in the industry.

Others who won NAPA Professional Excellence Award were Pharm. (Dr) Elijah Mohammed, Registrar PCN (Professional Excellence Award-Administrative Pharmacy); Dr Margaret Ilomuanya, a senior lecturer at Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos (Professional Excellence Award- Academic Pharmacy); Dr Kingsley Chiedu Amibor, Federal Medical Centre, Asaba (Professional Excellence Award -Hospital Pharmacy) and Pharm. Mohammed Ibrahim Hussain (Professional Excellence Award Community Pharmacy).

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