Without favourable government policies and the enabling environment for local drug manufacturers, achieving medicines security in the country will remain a mirage, experts in the pharmaceutical industry have said.
Speaking at the recent fifth anniversary celebration of St Racheal’s Pharma and launch of its brand of Azithromycin in Lagos, the thought leaders lamented that despite having a large pharmaceutical subsector that boasts over 100 manufacturing companies, Nigeria still depends on importation for 70 per cent of its drug needs. This, according to them, has continued to expose the country to various fake and substandard medicines.
Also at the event, which had the theme, “Manufacturing renaissance: A must for prosperity in Nigeria”, the public and private sector professionals described the state of local manufacturing in the country as appalling, as manufacturers continue to grapple with myriads of challenges.
Some of these challenges, according to them, include poor power and water supply, huge interest rates, harsh regulations, lack of infrastructures, extortion of pharma companies by government agencies, as well as multiple taxations.
They added that except government urgently intervenes to address the issues, there may not be much improvement in local drug production in the nearest future.
While berating the whopping N800 billion spent on the importation of malaria drugs, antibiotics and vaccines annually, the experts noted that aside from the needless spending, the gross dependence also put the country’s over 200 million population at the mercy of any disease outbreak.
The keynote speaker, Pharm. Patrick Ajah, managing director/chief executive officer of May & Baker Nigeria, further highlighted the challenges of local manufacturing in the country, by citing his company as an example. He disclosed that May & Baker spends over 250 million monthly on power generation alone, aside from other mandatory expenses. He wondered how manufacturers can make profits in such a situation, without fixing exorbitant prices on their drugs.
“About 80 to 90 per cent of APIs are imported, and these are things we shouldn’t really be doing. But if you were to compare with India, there are about 3000 registered pharma companies in India and over 10,500 manufacturing sites. In fact, if you visit some of the companies where some of us are buying things from, you will be ashamed for this country, because there are at least four Nigerian pharma companies with WHO prequalification, which places them in a higher position than some foreign pharma companies; but they lack the conducive environment to thrive.
“Policy sometimes is what is going to drive this manufacturing renaissance. The five plus five of NAFDAC is one of those policies, and I think it is going to encourage most pharma companies. The government also has a cardinal policy to take care of about 70 per cent of the drug needs. If they can make good on that, it is going to encourage many other companies to flourish,” he stated.
Ajah also harped on the need for Nigeria to actively participate in the global economy, especially as the country has signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). He noted that a vibrant local pharma manufacturing will help the vulnerable population gain access to quality medicines at affordable rates.
The May & Baker boss further charged government to channel the huge funds spent on importation of vaccines annually into the development of a local vaccine production facility, saying this will go a long way in improving the nation’s pharmaceutical sector.
“The money we spend on the vaccines we import every year is enough to build the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. So why are we not doing it?” he queried.
Also speaking at the event, the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njokwu, acknowledged the rich natural resources of Nigeria, noting that, while the nation has a fertile environment for drug manufacturing, it must seek to surmount the challenges making the goal difficult to achieve. He also called for backward integration of medicinal plants to boost the drug needs of Nigerians.
According to Njokwu, “We cannot continue to afford being dependent on other countries for our pharmaceutical needs. There is a need for Nigeria to start something internally. Nigeria has a fertile environment for drug manufacturing.”
On his part, frontline pharmacist and former gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Pharm. Jimi Agbaje, noted that government must ensure the provision of favourable policies and facilities, not only for pharmaceutical sector but also for the other sectors of the economy to thrive and prosper.
He recalled his foray into micro-scale manufacturing of cough syrups over four decades ago, said that the harsh regulatory policies of NAFDAC would eventually push him out of Lagos to secure a large facility in Ogun State before he could continue in business.
Agbaje, who regretted ever venturing into the business, narrated how prolonged power outage for over a year eventually crippled the manufacturing outfit, as he lacked funds to continuously power the manufacturing plant with diesel.
He concurred that it is very difficult for manufacturers of any products in Nigeria to make profit, identifying poor electricity supply as one of the huge problems.