We’ve dearth of locally manufactured drugs – Obi

Sir Nnamdi Obi is a Pharmacist and the Managing Director and CEO Embassy Pharmaceutical and Chemicals Ltd. Obi who is also President, Association of Pharmaceutical Importers in Nigeria during an interview with CHIOMA UMEHA (HEALTH EDITOR) bares his mind on a number of issues in the health sector.

Four Nigeria drug companies have the World Health Organisation (WHO) Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification. What does it mean for Nigeria?
What it means is that local pharmaceutical concerns are really coming up strongly and the certification will enable them bid for global businesses, global tenders, because they received such accreditation. There are only a few of them in Nigeria. Thanks to the DG of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, has contributed immensely in making the Nigerian Pharmaceutical industry attain such an enviable feat. Every other company is also gearing up to attain such a certification. Therefore, it will continue to get better for the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Industry.

What are the problems facing the local drugs manufacturers in Nigeria?
I am not a local manufacturer. However, the problems that do bedevil local drug manufacturers are very similar to problems that confront other businesses in Nigeria. For instance, in my office, we hardly have light from the National Grid. And your guess is as good as mine as to the amount that will be expended by the local manufacturing concerns in generating energy to power the various machinery in their respective establishments. That, no doubt, will make their products not to be highly competitive and would make it difficult to compete globally in terms of pricing.

For me, any local manufacturer that is able to employ a sizeable number of Nigerians should be given a national award, more than what we are having presently wherein politicians contribute very little to our nation. Politicians are those who can afford to pay for these honours and are given the honours recklessly. But, this award ought to have been given to local manufacturers who employ a sizeable number of Nigerians. This is also a way to encourage people to manufacture locally.

I haven’t gone into manufacturing because of the constraints and this is why I expect that those who have been able to take the bull by the horn, the local manufacturers, should be given a national award. It is imperative that the government provides an enabling environment for local manufacturing to thrive; then we can employ a sizeable number of the teeming population of our youths who are unemployed. As long as the youths are restless, we would continue to be restless.

Nigeria is said to be responsible for producing 60 per cent of the drugs used by the ECOWAS countries. What’s your take on this?
I don’t agree with such statistics. What do we produce? If a considerable percentage of what we consume locally are imported, how can we be servicing 60 per cent of the needs of ECOWAS countries. We are fond of brandishing figures without having accurate statistics to back up such claims. Our population figure varies from one person to another and if we ask where they got their statistics from, none can produce the information.

Nigeria cannot be supplying 60 per cent of the pharmaceutical needs of ECOWAS countries when we have dearth of pharmaceutical products manufactured locally by Nigerian companies used in Nigeria. How come we have this and yet we are servicing 60 per cent of the needs of ECOWAS countries? How can we marry such contradictions? I cannot agree with such a contradiction.

No manufacturing concern in Nigeria manufactures anti-retroviral drugs; no company in Nigeria manufactures anti-cancer drugs.

So, what do we manufacture?
Blood tonics, antiemetic, paracetamol, paracetamol syrups, capsules. Basically, the therapeutic classes Nigerians manufacture drugs for are very limited. There are various classes of therapeutic products: Analgesic and anti-pyretic, blood tonics, antibiotics. 95 per cent of antibiotics consumed in this country are not manufactured here. So, we cannot claim to supply 60 per cent of ECOWAS needs.

The government is not helping matters. The tariffs on local manufacturers are more than the importers. I am an importer but, I am never beclouded by my parochial interest to say because I am going to pay less duty, so be it; let’s get it on. Far from it! We should encourage local manufacturers because this is our country. With such tariffs, the government is killing the manufacturing concerns.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN) that claims that the future looks bleak in the quest for Nigeria to become self-sufficient in terms of drug production as N1.5 billion is lost annually on the importation of active pharmaceutical raw materials, ingredients (APIs) which have direct effect on diagnosis and treatment and prevention of diseases. Where do we go from here?
As far as I am concerned, Nigeria is a big for nothing nation. We are member of OPEC and yet we do not have fuel available for sale. Our refineries are not working. If the refineries were working, some of these APIs would have been derived from our petrochemicals. The manufacturer who needs these chemicals will source it locally, therefore delivery time is shorter. 99 per cent of these raw materials are now imported from India and China. China organises Trade Fairs two to three times a year; wherein people from all parts of the world gather.

This is why China has excessive foreign reserve. There is an aggressive marketing of Chinese products and they offer it to the entire world at a very competitive rate. The future looks so bleak in the pharmaceutical sector; just as the future looks so bleak in the petroleum sector. In all sectors of our economy, I do not in any way have any shred of optimism. Unless, and only if, there is going to be a redirection by the political leaders.

If you have a nation where the concurrent expenditure is much more than the capital expenditure, how are you going to survive?
Most Governors cannot afford to pay the salaries of their workers. They are begging the federal government to help them out. We are operating a very false federalism that makes a governor sit without thinking of ways to increase his internally generated revenue that would help to stimulate the economy of the State. We are not operating an economy that gives room for people to be innovative and that is the problem.

Therefore, what is happening in the political sphere is also happening in all strata of our activities. If Nigeria as a nation were to be a business outfit, it should command a business outfit that can compete internationally in any sphere of business because of our endowment in various natural resources that could be harnessed to have a very vibrant business outfit; but we are not.

Hence, I laugh when we pride ourselves as the biggest African nation. Elephant is the biggest animal but definitely not the most intelligent and that is what I liken Nigeria to. The future of the pharmaceutical sector is bright as long as we have a redirection.

Can you elaborate on the issue of the dearth of Intellectual Patent Protection?
These things fall in sequence. Once you don’t get it right in A, you cannot get it right in Z. Just like we see an infringement in intellectual property; you don’t expect the victim to, in the future, exercise some degree of energy in carrying out his own inspection; this is because the likelihood of it going down the drain are most obvious. The same happens in all aspects of life. There is so much easy money in this country that has not made many of us put on our thinking cap which is unfortunate.

Does an average Nigerian enjoy adequate health care?
Most Nigerians are not enjoying proper healthcare because of some factors. One of which is ignorance; the reason the Churches are thriving. For instance, somebody has cancer and is taken to Church for instance for miracle; it doesn’t work that way. Ignorance is a disease in this environment for which some of these Churches capitalize on and are smiling to the banks. While their members cry to their graves.

We do not yet have the insurance policy that has been put in place working because of fraudulent practices. Some establishments, because of their selfish interest, do not avail their workers such programmes.
We have a cocktail of confusion in the system that has really permeated the entire system. Most of these people who operate Health Management (HMOs) are not even honest with themselves; they are ripping Nigerians off. And this is because what we have in this environment is ‘make as much money as you have, you are going to be respected by the society’, morals have been thrown overboard. It is now the end that justifies the means. I tell you today that if an armed robber makes a good amount of money and goes to one of the Churches around and donates it to them, he is going to be made to stay on the front pew. Morals have been thrown to the dustbin.

As we speak, no company in Nigeria manufactures any anti- hypertensive drug or anti-diabetic drug. But, we have a lot of Nigerians who die from these conditions on a daily basis and these drugs are being imported.
So, the government has an enormous responsibility of putting the right policy in place for things to fall in place and what it takes is for those who know what it means to be there and not those who are there to make money for themselves.

I’m looking forward to having a National Assembly with Senators who aren’t paid much, so that there wouldn’t be any attraction to serve there. It will be for only those who have a genuine desire to serve. Unlike when they’d be paid millions of naira for wardrobe allowance and millions of naira for other expenses, the propensity to kill in other to get there will be high. This is possible if we have the right leadership. The President started off on a very good note by saying he belongs to all Nigerians and no person in particular. I applaud him for that; I hope he walks the talk.

How can a nation with this myriad of problems achieve a healthy nation?
If we are all looking forward to having a healthy nation, we all need to lend a hand into the baking of that cake called ‘a healthy nation.’ Buhari alone cannot stop corruption. If an officer request for something before letting someone off the hook, is Buhari going to be there? If, as a pharmacist, I do not attend to you unless you grease my palm, is Buhari going to be there? There must have to be a conscious effort of a new Nigeria by every one of us and then, we can move forward. You cannot go to the UK or China and bribe a policeman so that you can have your way. When we have several ugly practices as the norm, then, there is a problem.

What about the issue of incessant strike and other controversial issues in the health sector? There seems to be a sought of silence about it.
The health sector is bedeviled with strikes here and there, the medical doctors do not want any other person to be called a consultant, the other health workers want to be referred to as consultants. What is in the name for goodness sake? If you are an expert in your own field, then you are a consultant. Why would doctors arrogate themselves to be called consultants only?

Workers in the health sector work as a team to achieve their results. No matter the best of doctors you might have in the world, if you don’t have the input of a diagnostic eye, you are not going to achieve any result. And who is going to provide you with the best result? The medical scientist! The medical scientist provides the best of diagnosis, a doctor cannot fashion out the appropriate treatment. If the doctor and the medical scientist cannot have the right quality drug; it is all zero. It cannot work.

What I am saying, in essence, is that this bickering must have to stop. In the health sector, the doctor is as important as the lab scientist, the lab scientist is as important as a pharmacist and the pharmacist is as important as the doctor. So, we have to work as a team.

It is this discontentment that call for the strikes which is totally not necessary. I hope and pray that a time will come when we will all do things aright in this country.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on July 2, 2015.


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