Pharma Manufacturers’ Expo 2022: Maximising the Benefits

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Photo credit: Outsourcing-Pharma

The recently concluded 6th edition of the Nigeria Pharma Manufacturers’ Expo, which witnessed the participation of major stakeholders within and outside the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, was a landmark event, the lessons and benefits of which must not be handled with levity. The two-day event, having over 80 indigenous and foreign exhibitors showcasing their products and services, was held at The Haven, in Ikeja, Lagos.

With the theme: “Advancing the Frontiers of Medicine Security in Nigeria, Expanding Local Manufacturing in the era of AfCFTA,” the expo provided a platform for experts, regulators and policy makers to chart progress path for local manufacturing in the country, especially towards the attainment of universal health coverage and medicine security.

Almost all the speakers at the event agreed that government must do more to provide the enabling environment for local manufacturers to flourish and remain globally competitive. Indeed, with Nigeria’s growing population and abundant natural resources, the country remains a major hub for pharmaceutical manufacturing on the continent. Sadly, unfavourable policies from the government have consistently thwarted this expectation.

The foreign exchange crisis, which has made it very difficult for most manufacturers to import raw materials from India and China remains embarrassingly dominant in the list of factors militating against local manufacturing in the country. The fact that the Central Bank of Nigeria continues to portray this persistent problem as intractable casts a dark shadow on the prospects and potentials of the entire pharmaceutical landscape in the country.

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As observed by the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Prof. Cyril Usifoh, in his remarks at the opening ceremony of the exhibition, most of pharmaceutical manufacturers groan under the burden of high import duties, aside from the scarcity of forex. These factors will undoubtedly continue to threaten the accessibility of quality medicines to citizens unless government revisits its policies on import duty and forex.

Another major drawback to medicine security in the country, as affirmed by the Chairman of the expo, Pharm. Patrick Ajah, is the astronomical cost of gas and diesel. This continues to put much pressure on manufacturers, making them unable to grow and expand as they should. Indeed, as Ajah rightly observed, most local pharma manufacturers are only being patriotic rather than making profit with the prevailing circumstances in the country.

Essentially, Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in local drug manufacturing may turn out to be a mirage, unless government listens to stakeholders and implements policies that will stimulate growth, innovation and competitiveness among local manufacturers.

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With huge endowments in herbal and phytomedicine, it is incumbent on government to find ways of harnessing these resources to boost local drug production. One way to do this is to facilitate platforms, such as the pharma expo, that encourage knowledge sharing and capacity/technology transfer.

Moreover, there should be an urgent national policy that will reduce the local pharma industry’s dependence on India and China for APIs. This can be achieved if government pays stricter attention to the resuscitation of the country’s ailing extractive and petrochemical industries, in addition to supporting pharmaceutical farming and bio-manufacturing and ultimately, solving the power problem that is becoming a national failure.

More importantly, government must address the ongoing massive brain drain in the health sector by creating better working conditions for healthcare professionals. A situation in which the best brains among the nation’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists are leaving the country in droves, leaves nothing to be desired.

According to Prof. Usifoh, over 5000 pharmacists left Nigeria to Canada and UK within the last five years. He added that while less than 20,000 pharmacists are working in the country, out of the 50,000 produced so far. If this ugly trend persists, Nigeria may soon be left with a major manpower crisis in its healthcare sector.

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While we commend the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for ensuring quality control through diligent regulation, we also wish to call on the Federal Government to make more investments in the research and development segment of the pharmaceutical industry, especially now that the clamour for home-grown vaccine is at its peak. It is worrisome that many years after its establishment, Biovaccines, a joint venture between the Federal Government and May and Baker, has not been able to roll out its first vaccine, even though the DG of NAFDAC had said this would happen much earlier.

It is also imperative for the Central Bank of Nigeria to resolve the bottleneck around availability of forex for local manufacturers, as well as to reduce the high import duties on pharmaceutical raw materials. These will significantly lessen the burden on local pharmaceutical manufacturers.

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