Research is a tool for enhancing human capital development and the greatest investment that any nation can make should be in the development of its human capital. The more research efforts are encouraged, the more the country is better able to optimise its human capital potentials in science, health, education, politics and many other spheres of life.
However, there are challenges limiting the usefulness of research in Nigeria, which include inadequate funding; lack of equipment, facilities and materials; lack of awareness or appreciation of research work; poor implementation of research results; lack of legal provision; scarcity of records; and unattractive working conditions for research workers.
Sadly, these challenges are growing bigger every year, especially with respect to funding and equipment/facilities/material availability. We have capable researchers but lack the conducive environment for meaningful research. The research institutions in developed nations rely majorly on royalties from their inventions with patent rights, while the ones in Nigeria depend entirely on government subventions.
There is also a difference in the choice of leadership of the institutions. Competence, creativity, prudence, performance orientation are the major factors of choice in developed nations but in Nigeria, it is all about patronage. Performance, productivity and development will not come by accident; they will be achieved through dedication, hard work and committed leadership among other things.
Pharmaceutical research is a special area of interest to all of us and there is no gainsaying that Nigeria is lagging behind the world in this area. Over the years, we have relied totally on inventions from Europe and America to get drugs to treat old and new diseases. Despite the abundance of capable human resources, the environment of work, study, research and living remain the stumbling rock against meaningful research in the country.
We produce professors in our universities year after year, with scholarly articles published in reputable journals, but we are yet to produce a new molecule or modify the existing one as our “gift” to the world. Malaria is our major health problem and it has been estimated that 80 per cent of clinic attendance in Nigeria is due to fever-related complaints, most of which are malaria induced. Yet, no anti-malaria drug of any significant importance has been developed in Nigeria, despite the increasing number of universities and faculties across the country.
There are so many areas of pharmacy practice that require extensive research for us to move to a higher pedestal. Planning in the industry is based on estimates and even our claims on the size and categorisation of imports versus locally produced are not founded on concrete data.
This data exists and can be mined from NAFDAC, as well as hospitals and community pharmacies nationwide, but who cares? For more than a decade now, we have been using the Mobile Authentication Scheme (MAS) to determine the authenticity of products in circulation, spending billions of naira in the process. We need a research work to confirm if this scheme is working and if we need a better scheme to achieve the objective. But, who cares?
At this critical period, the country is looking at us: industry, universities and research institutes, for solution(s) to the COVID-19 pandemic but none has come that could substantially impact the outcome. There is on-going research to develop vaccine or curative therapy for COVID-19 but the critical question must be asked: where is Nigeria in this race?
In fact, we can ask: where is Nigeria in the world pharmaceutical map? The global pharmaceutical industry is projected to reach $1.3trillion in 2020 and the major players are in Europe and America. Most of these players – Pfizer, Roche, Novartis and Merck – have turnover that are more than double the total annual budget of Nigeria in 2019.
From pharmaceutical companies’ reports, a record $71.4billion was spent on research and development in 2017, approximating about 21.4 per cent of sales. Where is Nigeria in all these? How will an industry reeling under the yoke of a harsh operating environment, multiple taxation, huge receivable burden, etc., be able to do or fund any research.
In terms of country data, India presents an interesting case that is worthy of emulation It is the largest provider of generic drugs globally, sand upplies 50 per cent of global demand for various vaccines, 40 per cent of generic demand in the USA and 25 per cent of all medicines in the UK. Presently, over 80 per cent of ARV drugs used to combat HIV/AIDS globally are supplied by Indian pharmaceutical firms.
The pharmaceutical sector is projected to reach the $100 billion mark by 2025, total export from India may hit $20,7billion FY2020. Despite this bright scorecard, the Pharma Vision 2020 is to make India the global leader in end- to- end drug manufacturing.
In Nigeria, the story is that of almost total dependence as 80 per cent of the drug consumption is imported and even the remaining 20 per cent produced in Nigeria depends 100 per cent on imported input. It is clear that as a country, we are yet to take advantage of the potentials of this industry for a plethora of reasons. We need to go back to the origin, which is basic research, if we want to be relevant in this industry and it is up to NAPA to rise up to the challenge.
Where do we go from here? When will the environment be conducive for meaningful research in Nigeria? How and when are we going to be competitive in the global pharmaceutical space? There are more questions but we all know that much depends on the leadership of the country.
We got some attention recently as a result of COVID-19, pandemic with stimulus packages for the industry and provision of funds for research. As usual, the implementation bottleneck is depriving us of the potential benefits of the stimulus package.
Will things ever change in this country? Your guess is as good as mine. However, I believe that we cannot afford to fold our arms and forever be waiting for government to get its acts right. As Franca Attoh & Tope Omogbemi (2017) advised, to face this protracted issues of development, universities (and by extension, pharmacists in academia) should be ivory towers of thought, reflection and creativity, working in tandem with industries to create wealth and engender better well-being through groundbreaking researches.
For recommendation on the way forward, we need to look inward and find a way to fund meaningful research to remain relevant in the country and the world. We need a central body to coordinate this effort and I think the Nigeria Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA), working very closely with the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) is best suited for this role. In effect, we need a Pharmaceutical Research Trust Fund (PRTF) which can be used for dedicated research into new molecules to treat tropical diseases, as well as develop herbal remedies that can be exported to the world.
NAPA will have to get its members to work more in collaboration with each other, the pharmaceutical industry and the larger world. We need to gain the confidence and trust that will make individuals (pharmacists in particular) and corporate bodies to put their money in the fund. We can dedicate some centres or universities for specific research effort and work in cohort to achieve the set target.
There are other opportunities that can be tapped to generate fund for sustainability. For instance, NAPA can approach NAFDAC through PSN for the certification of universities’ pharmaceutical chemistry laboratories for product analysis. The agency has more than what its current capacity can accommodate and, with appropriate advocacy, may be willing to look in that direction.
Our advocacy with the government must be intensified. We need to seize the opportunity created by the COVID-19 pandemic to get things moving. It is time for the federal government to appoint a special adviser of cabinet rank to be in charge of pharmaceutical services, including regulation of practice and products, research and development, manufacturing and distribution, procurement and training.
Nigeria is waiting for us. The pharmaceutical industry is waiting for us. Nothing can be done to improve our national development without deep and purposeful research. According to the late Madiba Nelson Mandela, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Yes, we have cause to be angry with the system, our environment and the government but yet we have the capacity to turn adversity into adventure that will lead to collective prosperity. The time to do it is now.