Health  

Red alert to imminent rise in drug prices


*To keep figures down, all pharmaceutical-manufacturing inputs should be exempted from VAT, says PSN
*Nigeria has limited capacity to produce medicines to manage mutated viral infections like coronavirus
*Society targets to locally manufacture minimum of 50 per cent of all essential products by 2022

Pharmacists under the aegis of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) have alerted to imminent rise in prices of essential and non-essential drugs. They blamed the situation on national inflation, closure of land borders, increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), lack of incentives for local manufacture, and poor funding for research.

Contrary to speculations that the country does not have drugs to contain flu and coronaviruses, they said Nigeria has some capacity to produce drugs for managing viruses and that high doses of certain vitamins, minerals can help boost natural immunity against the killer pathogen.

The pharmacists, however, said the capacity to manufacture drugs to manage new emerging mutated viral infections like coronavirus is limited and certainly no self sufficiency exits, more so when the knowledge of the virus is still scanty.

President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, told The Guardian: “Yes, the fears of rise in price of drugs is real. First the national inflation has continued to inch up monthly and all prices are on the rise. Secondly, the closure of land borders has increased cost of transportation and cost of doing business. The resultant cost pressure is being pushed to all commodities. Thirdly the recent increase in VAT will affect cost of drugs. Though finished drugs are non- vatable, many of the manufacturing inputs are vatable. To keep prices down, then all pharmaceutical manufacturing inputs should be exempted from VAT.”

The pharmacist said PSN’s agenda is to increase Nigeria’s level of self- sufficiency in local drugs production. He explained: “We have set a target of minimum of 50 per cent of all essential medicines by 2022. We are also working on deleting some materials from the import list and replacing them with locally produced materials. We are currently developing some finished products from purely local sources through an alliance between the industrial pharmacists and the academic pharmacists. Efforts are also being made to deepen the availability of pharmaceutical industrial manpower.”

Ohuabunwa said there a so many challenges towards meeting self-sufficiency in drug production in Nigeria. He said the first challenge is poor funding of universities and research institutes like the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) Abuja. “This is the major obstacle,” he said.

The pharmacist said drug production derives from research and when not much is going on, the country has to keep importing from countries that appreciate research and development. “Second is poor enforcement of regulation. Certain items that should not be imported as still being imported and some are smuggled. Third is lack of incentives for local manufacture. Sometimes, it looks like it is a ‘curse’ to manufacture locally,” Ohuabunwa said.

To address the situation and reverse the trend, the pharmacist recommended among other things: Government should fund NIPRD and other research institutes; to incentivise local production; to enforce regulation, just as the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is about to enforce the 5+5 rule.

The NAFDAC Five Plus Five-Year Validity (Migration to Local Production) is to enhance local production of pharmaceuticals in Nigeria.It means a product registration license is valid for five years and by the end of the fourth year of license validity, companies are required to submit draft blue prints of proposed partnerships with Nigerian companies or/and set up local manufacturing plant.

However, the migration to local manufacturing will be limited to products the local manufacturers have capacity to produce or that partnership would enhance the capacity to manufacture.Not all products may be manufactured locally therefore; there are products that will be imported due to country capacity that has not yet been attained.

Reacting to availability of drugs for managing flu and coronavirus, the PSN President said: “Yes we have a lot of medicines for managing flu in Nigeria.”
He said Nigeria has some capacity to produce drugs for managing viruses. “I say manage because Ordinarily viral infections like those that cause the common cold or flu, are self limiting and much of the drugs are used to manage the symptoms and to prevent opportunistic infections. As with the Human Immuno- deficiency virus (HIV), it is mostly the opportunistic infections like pneumonia and other bacterial and fungal infections that actually kill.

“Capacity to manufacture drugs to manage new emerging mutated viral infections like coronavirus is limited and certainly no self sufficiency exits, more so when the knowledge of the virus is still scanty.”

Ohuabunwa added: “Yes, certain drugs can be used to prevent flu or the effects of the coronavirus. Most are immune boosters. High doses of certain vitamins and minerals can help boost natural immunity that will minimize or prevent the deleterious effects of viruses, including the coronavirus. Preventing coronavirus is essentially by avoiding contact with infected animals, persons or objects. High degree of hygiene is highly indicated.”

The pharmacist said government should take the coronavirus infection as an emergency right now. He said Nigerians travel frequently to China and it may not be long for the virus to land on the country’s shores, if not already there. “We call on government to start screening arrivals at our Ports and begin to get medications ready,” he said.

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