On the neglect of home-grown medicine
The Guardian’s feature story of Wednesday, August 31, titled, “Neglecting a goldmine in trado-medicine” could hardly be more apt. It simply beggars’ belief, for instance, that in a country so naturally-endowed – with millions of hectares of arable land – Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry, still relies essentially on imported starch among a host of other inputs for drug manufacturing.
The observation by one of the respondents in the article who provides employment for 150 people from the operation of a not very-well-funded herbal clinic and research laboratory is poignant. The bigger benefit that could arise from such establishments is the discovery and development of newer and better medicines to combat the sundry ailments that afflict mankind, especially those that are endemic to our part of the world. Indeed, all of these speak to some of the opportunities that our country continues to miss from our inability to look inwards and explore and exploit that which is readily available herein.
Every segment of society bears blame for the sorry state of Nigeria’s pharmaceutical sector including our failure to harness the benefits of traditional medicine. Government, however, still must play the pivotal role of providing leadership in order to help move this segment of society forward.
Typically, research is capital-intensive. Government has taken the right step forward in setting up the sundry research institutes including the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, the Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency, among a few others. The next step is to provide these research agencies with the wherewithal to be productive, the funding with which the researchers can carry out their responsibilities. Government has a strong role to play not only in providing funding and necessary infrastructure and other support but also in encouraging the wealthier segments of society including charitable foundations to be more positively disposed to sponsoring research.
It is largely in realisation of these and other issues that the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy was founded two years ago. We recognise that advocacy for better support for scientific research and researchers in general even though generally below par in Nigeria has continuously nose-dived over the years. We also recognise that unless knowledgeable people in society regularly articulate these issues and the benefits to society, government in the face of a multiplicity of contending demands may not necessarily accord research and development the attention it deserves.
Indeed, not only is the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy advocating a re-awakening of scientific research in general, it has also instigated a review of the curricular of the Pharmacy degree programme in Nigerian universities. Doing this has entailed bringing together deans and the leadership of Faculties of Pharmacy in all universities, relevant pharmaceutical oversight organisations like the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria as well as experts in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences from the UK and United States. The net result of this effort is that the curricular are currently being modified to place a stronger focus on patient care rather than the product that was hitherto the case. In addition, the curricular will place considerably more emphasis on research in the pharmaceutical sciences and it’s imperative.
Nigeria certainly has the human resources to make this happen. Even though the brain drain phenomenon may have blighted the manpower available in our universities and research institutes, with many pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists leaving our shores in pursuit of better work conditions elsewhere, those who are available are formidable forces that can still make a tangible difference.
In addition, the Academy has every confidence that once the right environment is created many of our colleague scientists from around the world will return home to contribute to growing this pharmaceutical sector that could portend so much good for Nigeria’s economy and for mankind in general. In any case, in a world that is a global village, collaborative research is the order of the day. Scientists at home can collaborate with those in the Diaspora and get some research done. For instance, there are more than 5,000 pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists currently working in the United States. Many of these professionals have expressed the wish to return to Nigeria and help impact the health sector, once the situation with the overall health industry improves.
Our work at the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy, interestingly also involves considerable collaboration with partner Academies and scientific-research oriented organisations. Ultimately, what we expect to happen is a resurgence of interest in a sector, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, that has so much potential not only to help redress our economic situation as a country but indeed, help ameliorate some of the problems imposed on us by disease.
It is important, therefore, that we continue to bring these issues to light.We are confident that this growing groundswell of interest not only in home-grown medicine but healthcare in general, will spur not only the powers-that-be but the larger society into according scientific research and development the attention it truly deserves. Very importantly, at a time of economic recession when old ideas and old game plans are yielding very little result, there is no time better than this, for us to look inwards. In looking inwards, we must be creative. We must also be resilient, especially as research will not yield results overnight. But we must be disciplined enough to persevere in the confidence that ultimately, we alone hold the keys to the resolution of the economic and health challenges that afflict us. No one else does.
• Prof. Tayo is general secretary of the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy.