(By Yusuff Moshood)
In this first edition of our CEO of the Month series, we present Pharm. (Sir) Nnamdi Obi, MD/CEO of Embassy Pharmaceutical and Chemicals Limited who spoke on the importance of positive collaboration between pharmacists and non-pharmacists in the development of the pharmaceutical industry.
Sir Obi, who is also president of the Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria (APIN), in this recent interview with Pharmanews in Lagos, particularly urged pharmacists to embrace non-pharmacist entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in and transform the pharmaceutical sector. He also discussed the new National Drug Distribution Guidelines and other contemporary issues affecting pharmacy practice in Nigeria.
At the first 2014 bi-monthly meeting/motivational seminar of industrial pharmacists, you spoke on the importance of collaboration in the development of the pharma sector. What steps can stakeholders take to make the initiative work?
The fact is that we have all agreed that the way pharmacy is practised in this country is not the best. Besides, it is very clear that pharmacists cannot do it alone. We need to work in concert with non-pharmacist entrepreneurs who can invest in our sector to take the practice to an enviable height. It will be a win-win situation for everybody, if this is done.
Pharmacists don’t have to treat non-pharmacists interested in the pharmaceutical sub-sector of the economy with disdain. So, what I am saying is that we should work with non-pharmacists and open up the industry.
Nothing stops a non-pharmacist from investing in a chain of drug distribution. In fact, right now, how many pharmaceutical manufacturing outfits are even owned by pharmacists in this country? Just a few. What I am saying is that we already have non-pharmacists who have invested their money in pharmaceutical manufacturing business. We should encourage this collaboration with non-pharmacist investors and open up the sector.
Our colleagues should forget about having a one -man show and embrace collaboration. We owe it to ourselves and our profession. Also, the teaming population of students graduating from our universities every year have to work. And where are they going to work, if we don’t open up all the sectors of our economy and embrace collaboration with investors?
Government of countries in Europe and Asia are said to be using policies to promote businesses in their countries. Can Nigeria follow this path? Are there policies the Nigerian government can formulate to help transform the pharmaceutical industry?
Certainly we can and, indeed, should have such policies. We should have tax incentive. For instance, there is no reason why the Nigerian government cannot say that any pharmaceutical company that can manufacture antiretroviral drugs, antihypertensive drugs and antidiabetic drugs in Nigeria for the use of Nigerians, should not import the raw materials for the drugs duty-free.
Also, our financial institutions are not helping matters. Investors in the institutions are all for quick fixes and short-term investments. This cannot work, if we want to grow and develop our industries. A friend of mine has just established a pharmaceutical outfit in India. With less than 500 thousand naira of his own money, he established an industry that is worth over 20 million dollars. Can that happen in this clime? No. Our investors will be unwilling to fund such a project. There must be a conscious effort by all to grow our industries.
So, for the health sector, as a whole, to work, all stakeholders must contribute their bit, work together with other interested parties and do what is right always.
A major issue in the pharmaceutical sector right now is the National Drug Distribution Guidelines recently announced by the health ministry. What are your thoughts on this initiative? Is it a step in the right direction?
Yes, it is a step in the right direction. However, I also think the modalities for its implementation must be tinkered with because we have to take cognisance of our own peculiarities in this environment. I don’t want to dwell much on it because I know the stakeholders are meeting and we shall discuss and fine-tune the grey areas.
Your company, Embassy, recently bagged a NAFDAC award as the most compliant to the agency’s regulatory requirements in the pharmaceutical sector. Tell us about this award and its significance to Nigerians.
It is a statement of fact by NAFDAC that we are working in strict compliance to the requirement of the law. Nigerians are better off for it because they are getting genuine drugs from Embassy. If we are bringing fake products into this country, we couldn’t have received such recognition from NAFDAC. So, Nigerians are benefiting because we are bringing in quality pharmaceutical products at affordable rates.
I think the credit should go to our partners who supply the products and the Embassy team working with me, not to me alone, as an individual.
What usually informs the choice of products your company brings to the Nigerian market?
I am conscious of the fact that this is a clime where there are so many products needed that are not available and affordable. So, it is not only commercial interest that drives the Embassy business. It is not. I am a pharmacist and I consistently read to update myself on what is going on in the society and the environment where I am practising. We look at the needs of the environment and bring products to satisfy the needs of Nigerians who need these products. The principle is to always provide top quality products that Nigerians need at affordable prices.