In spite of its reputation as the hub of pharmaceutical manufacturing in the West African sub-region, the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry has continued to wallow under the heavy weight of certain retrogressive factors that have not allowed it to maximise its productive potentials. Ranging from government policies and infrastructural deficits to unforeseen socio-economic realities, these factors have continued to cast a dark shadow over the ease of doing business in the industry.
To begin with, it is worrisome that Nigeria, as a country, does not have a unified exchange rate. This arbitrariness in our exchange policy means that government does not have the minutest control over incessant and unstable hike in prices of commodities, especially raw materials needed by pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce quality medicines. One of the sordid implications of this development is that the end consumer would have to constantly grapple with the rise in prices of drugs. And bearing in mind the harsh economic realities in the country, the consumer may lose his or her purchasing power and become an easy target to manufacturers and marketers of fake and substandard medicines.
During the recent unveiling of the Pharmacity Project in Ebonyi State by the leadership of the Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP) in conjunction with Bloom Public Health, there were high hopes that the production and distribution of quality medicines in Nigeria and beyond would be greatly boosted. However, it must be observed that while the aspirations of NAIP and Bloom Public Health are laudable and timely, the realities on ground, in terms of government policies and other macro-economic indices, do not suggest that we should expect much.
It is sad that Nigeria cannot boast of a single pharmaceutical raw material other than unclean water which has to be treated before use. All our indigenous manufacturers source their raw materials, including APIs, from India and China at very outrageous costs. And when they eventually arrive the country, the cost of moving them from the port to the warehouse is another tale of pain and frustration.
In a recent interview with Pharmanews, Managing Director/CEO, Embassy Pharmaceuticals and National Chairman of the Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria, APIN, Pharm. (Sir) Nnamdi Obi, bemoaned what he called the infrastructural deficit that has made local manufacturing and importation very difficult in the country. He lamented that despite Nigeria’s endowment with immense human and material resources, the country continues to be beleaguered by challenges such as bad roads, unstable and inadequate power supply, unstable exchange rates and bureaucratic bottlenecks.
“It has not been easy for any business in Nigeria before and during the COVID-19 period. We do know for a fact that we are battling with infrastructural deficit, in terms of infrastructure in this clime and it becomes difficult or impossible for any Nigerian business, no matter what facet of business, to compete effectively. So, not only those who are into pharma that are adversely affected; it cuts across different segments of businesses”, he said.
According to the Executive Director, Mopson Pharmaceutical, Mr Dele Badejo, most pharmaceutical manufacturing companies usually wait for a period of up to four months to have their containers cleared from the port due to bureaucratic bottlenecks and unexplained delays by the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority. He lamented the fact that the development is a serious threat to the availability of quality medicines in the country, adding that, if the scenario remains unchecked, the Nigerian pharmaceutical market would be hijacked by manufacturers of fake and substandard products.
He said: “If care is not taken, many of the pharmaceutical manufacturers would run out of stock because containers are queuing at the ports waiting to be cleared. The delay is unhealthy. And even though the Vice President had given an executive order that offloading should be done both in the daytime and at night, nothing has changed. The situation is too harsh. Many of us may not be able to cope.”
In fashioning out practical solutions to some of these challenges, Professor Chimezie Anyakora, CEO, Bloom Public Health, believes that government must take the challenges facing the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector as a national security issue that must also be given a long-term approach in order to make the industry competitive.
Anyakora noted that in some countries, concessions are given to local manufacturers to enhance their production. According to him, most countries of the world are now thinking differently to enhance the activities of their local manufacturers. He cited the issue of the COVID-19 vaccine which some countries have taken as a national priority. For instance, America is passionate about Pfizer, just as India is about AstraZeneca. For him, until Nigeria identifies and becomes passionate about its local manufacturers, the attainment of enviable heights in pharmaceutical manufacturing may take a longer time.
“Pfizer is a private company but America has taken its vaccine as a national issue. There is a study being carried out by the PCN, NIPRD and the Lagos Business School to map out the pharmaceutical value chain so that we can have some of these things in the country. It is unfair to the Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturing industry that it has to rely on India for its APIs. It is like relying on one’s competitor for assistance”, he said.
For Nigeria to achieve its desired expectations in terms of self-sufficiency in drug manufacturing and distribution, the Federal Government has to, as a matter of national urgency, animate all policies and frameworks that would ensure that things are done with regards to global best practice.
The leadership of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and all its affiliate bodies, must also rise up to the occasion by insisting that the right things are done by government. Health and drug manufacturing matters should not be politicised; they should be handed over to the experts to handle. That is the only way we can begin to expect to see the needed transformation in the pharmaceutical sector and, indeed, all aspects of our national life.