PCN, NAFDAC Championing Availability of Quality Medicines in Africa – Prof. Anyakora

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As Nigerian pharmacists, scientists and other relevant stakeholders continue to work towards the attainment of excellence in drug production and distribution, eminent Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Chief Executive Officer of Bloom Public Health, Chimezie Anyakora, has said that the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) are working harmoniously to ensure that quality medicines are provided for Nigerians and other Africans.

Speaking to Pharmanews, in an exclusive interview, the internationally-recognised academic and former country lead (Nigeria) for the United States Pharmacopoeia, stated that NAFDAC is highly respected in the West African sub-region and indeed the African continent as a whole. According to him, the Nigerian food and drugs regulator is the backbone of the regional harmonisation happening in ECOWAS.

Anyakora added that in order to sustain the availability of quality medicines in Nigeria and beyond, the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) roadmap which he conceived and shared with NAFDAC must be implemented to the letter. He noted that the aim of the initiative is to improve the overall quality of local manufacturing and put Nigeria in a leading role in pharmaceutical manufacturing across Africa.

Prof. Chimezie Anyakora

Below is the full interview:

Sir, you have been involved in public health and quality medicine research. Can you tell us how your works have impacted the Nigerian health sector?

I have dedicated a large chunk of my professional life to this field and it is most rewarding to see what we have been able to achieve in a few years, in partnership with other well-meaning Nigerians. As a key player in this sector, I think we have not fully captured all the improvements that have been made in the medicine quality space in Nigeria. Several new factories have come up in the last ten years. NAFDAC is much more respected on the continent. As a matter of fact, all the NAFDAC labs are ISO 17025 accredited.

NAFDAC technical staff are the backbone of the regional harmonisation happening in ECOWAS. NIPRD has come out much stronger than they used to be and they currently play great roles in the pharmaceutical space. Their drug lab is also ISO 17025 accredited. PCN is working harmoniously with NAFDAC to ensure the availability of quality medicines throughout the medicine supply chain.

Many pharmacy schools in Nigeria now actively prepare their students to be ready to contribute to the quality assurance system of the country. There is a much more sustained effort to have local companies play in the public health programmes. Some companies in Nigeria are supplying products to the world for public health programmes.

Nigerian manufacturers have stepped up to be counted in the public health space. A Nigerian company was the first on the continent to produce chlorhexidine gel for umbilical cord care. A Nigeria company was the first on the continent to produce oxytocin injection for postpartum haemorrhage. A Nigerian company was the first on the continent to produce amoxicillin dispersible tablet. A Nigerian company was a major supplier for Zn dispersible tablets used in many African countries for public health programmes. We can go on and on. All these happened in the last five years and we are not shouting enough.

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As someone immersed in all these improvements in the country I always look back with so much joy on what has happened in this country in such a short space of time and l look at the future with much more excitement because I know we are going to achieve much more. Nigeria will be among the top five countries in the world in pharmaceutical manufacturing in the foreseeable future and certainly the first in Africa. When I see all this I feel we are not shouting enough.

Can you take us on an excursion into the Bloom Public Health vision and mission and how you plan to better the lot of the Nigerian health sector?

Bloom Public Health has come to further advance all these gains over these years. Bloom Public Health exists to bridge the gap in public health in Africa and create a continent where access and quality of care are affordable to all in a sustainable way. Over these years of playing in the public health space on the continent, one thing that became clear was the immense talent available on the continent, yet so uncoordinated.

We do not lack the necessary talents but we just need to marshal them towards the solutions for public health. This is the essence of Bloom Public Health – to mobilise local talents on the continent for a sustainable public health impact. We cannot continue to rely on the West to solve our problems.

The GMP roadmap for the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry has been widely applauded for its objectives and you have been credited to be the brain behind it. How well do you think this roadmap has been embraced so far?

I think the GMP roadmap is one biggest achievement of my career. The impact will last for years to come. That is the beginning a great renaissance in the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria. By the time we look back, five to ten years from now, we will realise how important this activity is.

I really want to applaud NAFDAC for that bold step and the PMGMAN for a great buy-in. Of course, I also appreciate my former employer, the United States Pharmacopeia, through the PQM programme funded by USAID, for being an instrument to make this project happen in Nigeria.

The story is just beginning. Everyone has to embrace it eventually. It took a lot of advocacy for it to happen. Everyone resisted it but I saw the impact and never stopped pushing for it. It took several years to achieve the necessary buy-in for it to happen. I think at this stage, it will necessarily take its course. As a matter of fact, the Pharmacity concept that Bloom Public Health is also pushing – thanks to our partnership with the National Association of Industrial Pharmacists (NAIP) – is part of the fruits of the roadmap.

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As a necessity, many company will have to upgrade. The Pharmacity gives them the alternative to do that in an environment with the best of support system anyone can think of and the cheapest possible cost of manufacturing anywhere in Nigeria because of the incentives and the benefit of economy of scale.

We are on the verge of a great renaissance in the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria. Another fruit of the roadmap is a very important project being championed by Bloom Public Health, in partnership with the PCN, NIPRD and the Lagos Business School. We are trying to map out the pharmaceutical value chain, the size of the market and the growth potential.

The aim is to attract investors to the pharmaceutical ecosystem. One of the biggest problems of pharmaceutical manufacturing in Nigeria is that there is no lively ecosystem to support quality manufacturing. Every service is practically procured from outside the country. This our project will populate the ecosystem and thereby set up the sector for growth.

The pharmaceutical manufacturing landscape in Nigeria is saturated with all shades of players. How do you think NAFDAC and all other stakeholders can ensure that the health of Nigerian citizens is safeguarded to the letter, bearing in mind the threats posed by manufacturers of fake and substandard products?

As I always like to say, it is good to categorise substandard medicines into two. One is poor quality, due to lack of expertise in pharmaceutical manufacturing and storage. The second is poor quality due to criminality because of falsification of products. The two are solved differently. The GMP roadmap is solving the former. With the roadmap, every company knows where they stand and what they need to do to be where they should be.

The latter requires a combined effort to combat. Not only NAFDAC – everybody should keep an eye. If you see something, say something. Even though NAFDAC is among the most populated medicine regulatory authorities on the continent, they also have an enormous task to regulate such a wild environment and we should all support with the necessary information. And gradually the bad actors will not find it conducive to operate.

What should Nigerians expect from your collaboration with the National Association of Industrial Pharmacists?

So far, this has been amazing. The first fruit of our collaboration is the Pharmacity, which is about to go live. This is what it means to be aligned to a common goal. I want to use this opportunity to appreciate the leadership of NAIP. They have made this collaboration wonderful and we are achieving a lot together.

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The second wave of the coronavirus has shown that the pandemic is very much with us. What is Bloom Public Health doing to help in the fight against the virus?

Bloom is playing big in this pandemic too. Firstly, we have been advocating for local manufacture of medicines in the country, taking advantage of what the pandemic has thrown up, which is an unsustainable structure of reliance on foreign countries for our medicines needs.

Bloom is also playing big in the vaccine policy that the government of Nigeria is developing. We are a key partner to the Ministry of Health in this project, with other organisations like WHO, UNICEF and CHAI. Bloom is also part of the COVID-19 vaccine introduction Technical Working Group. We also partnered with the Medical Lab Science Council of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Accreditation System to build capacity of labs towards accreditation on serologic and biologic molecular test methods.

Apart from Bloom Public Health, which other project are you involved in?

Firstly, I am an academic and will always be. I have a great advantage of viewing things with a certain depth, typical of an academic; and having a strong hands-on knowledge and understanding of things, typical of a practitioner. I know this is a unique combination that is somehow rare.

I have also been deeply involved in international development programmes, as well as a deep involvement in the pharmaceutical sector. This is unique and I bring that with my passion for excellence and great patriotism to push the country forward to the best of my ability.

Apart from Bloom Public Health, I am the founder of CAROSS, the Centre for Applied Research on Separation Science. Here, we mentor young academics to excel in research by providing them with the necessary contacts, tools and motivation to do so. We also give out an annual prize to young chromatography scholars each year. I am also a cofounder and vice chairman, board of trustees, of Safe Medicine Foundation, a non-governmental organisation doing a lot in promoting medicine quality in Nigeria. I sit on a few other boards in different organisations, both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria.

What is your advice to Nigerian healthcare practitioners in the face of the ravaging coronavirus pandemic that has led to adverse social and economic restrictions?

We should all focus on the lessons we can learn from this pandemic. We cannot afford not to learn from this. Also, it is good to see the great work done by the Nigerian healthcare practitioners and we should make it a norm and maintain the tempo, even when the pandemic goes away.

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