Government must save local drug manufacturers, says ex-PSN boss



Olumide Akintayo is the immediate past President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN). In this interview with CHUKWUMA MUANYA,
he said that in another 30 days, lack of essential and other life saving drugs would be more pronounced if the government does not intervene now.

How grave is the situation regarding drugs scarcity, tough economic environment and the cost on poor Nigerians?
Everybody knows we are facing the toughest times in national life. The realities of an economic recession come with grave consequences, which gravitate towards scarcity of resources whether financially or materially, and indeed access to all the good things of life. In the pharmaceutical sector, we have reached a stage whereby the warehouses of manufacturers and importers are almost empty, in fact, in another 30 days, lack of essential and other life saving drugs will be more pronounced if the Federal Government does not intervene now. At over 400 to $1, no manufacturer or importer can sustain business, because the end product will be naturally too expensive, thus defeating one of the cardinal goals of the national drug policy, which seeks to make drugs affordable at all times in the health system.

Loss of jobs also looms in our sector because no entrepreneur continues to pay redundant workers for jobs the economic situation prevents them from doing. In apocalyptic terms, a national calamity is in the offing because the fake drug merchants will utilize the vacuum of scarcity. Remember too that the PSN has always alerted that the fake drug business has grave security implications, which I will elaborate on for the country.

What is to be done to get out of this situation?
In discoveries of this nature, we must put issues in perspective. The economic challenges of the moment are the result of recklessness and ‘planlessness’ of several years. If Nigeria generated over N51 trillion in a six year period preceding 2015 and depleted an external reserve that peaked a few years ago at about $60 billion, then something is wrong with us as managers. It is important to say that even when you imagine the President Muhammadu Buhari administration did not create this problem, the fact is that it is still the responsibility of government to fix challenges. The monetary and fiscal policies of this administration have been less than inspiring.

Even when one is not an economic expert, I do know that we most reduce import bills and promote exports as well as grow the real sector to ameliorate the situation. In the pharmaceutical sector, government must incentivise local production to encourage self-sufficiency. Government can do this by approving zero duties for manufacturers who still import Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), excipients, machineries and related items. Government must also patronise the local industry to sustain it. For importers of finished products, unavailable in this clime, we must continue the policy of zero tariffs to subsidise cost to consumers of health who are already overburdened.

Regulators of the pharma industry like Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and NAFDAC must avoid policy summersaults, which worsen proclivities towards scarcity. Recently, NAFDAC suspended marketing authorization of company products, which it had not visited their overseas manufacturing plant for GMP compliance, that will only complicate things by establishing chaos. This is a time agencies of government need to build and shore up goodwill for the Federal Government. This particular NAFDAC policy will only stampede availability of life saving drugs, which already, are scarce. It is therefore an invitation to a booming disease burden and outright death. I cannot address all the issues here, but I am calling on NAFDAC to urgently hold a dialogue with the PSN and its appendages in industry to manage this development in public interest in the days ahead.

A survey of the market shows a sharp rise in prices of essential drugs. Do you agree?
There is no debate about an increase; we already have an increase of 30 per cent to 42 per cent depending on the category of drug product. At the rate we are going, it is estimated that drugs will soar over 60 per cent of their September 2015 price by the end of September 2016.

What is the situation at the manufacturing sector, in terms of imported inputs and how biting the situation on end users?
In our manufacturing sector, the situation is the same even beyond the pharma industry; the import component is still very heavy. All the active ingredients, excipients, packaging materials, equipment and lots more are imported. When you add this to energy and water cost as well as other maintenance costs, you will appreciate that manufacturing is not for the lily-livered. Unfortunately, like it or not, this cost will be forced the throat of consumers. You may want to make inference on the opportunity cost of life in the circumstance. When these issues are historicized, you will see the benefit package of the repeated call for the development of the petrochemical sector for true industrial revolution in Nigeria.

What local alternatives are available and if not, why?
I do not know of alternatives that have met specifications in due process as determined by appropriate statutory agencies of government.

What can be done to grow traditional medicine to provide alternative to imported drugs?
Reliance on traditional medicinal practices is not one that can be advanced through sensationalism or emotional paroxysms. The traditional medicine practitioners need to comport themselves by lifting the siege procedurally speaking that creates barriers in the scientific evaluation and appraisals of their products and methodologies. In every country where traditional medicine has been harmonised with orthodox health practice, the common ground remains quality assurance and control in laboratories. At some point, active ingredients must be identified for synthesis on commercial large scale.

I am however aware that the Federal ministry of health appears to be working on better training modalities for traditional medicine practitioners .The totality of these development will work maximally together to change the face of healthcare practice in Nigeria.

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