Hard times await patients with chronic disease

…  As NIROPHARM wants ECOWAS common external tariff retained 

Hard times await Nigerians who depend local health services for treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, heart and kidney disease, among others, unless the recent calls by stakeholders are heeded to by the government to maintain zero tariffs on certain imported drugs, insisting that this will ensure more affordable drugs for patients with such diseases. 

Stating this in Lagos, were members of the Nigerian Representatives of Overseas Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (NIROPHRAM), who tasked government to renew its commitment to improving the well-being of Nigerians and to stand firm in upholding Economic for West African States’ (ECOWAS) Common External Tariff (CET) which it is a signatory. The President of the association, Lekan Asuni, said the call was also germane in ensuring that input into local pharmaceutical manufacturing, such as raw materials and packaging is allotted zero per cent importation tariff. 

He faulted the recent calls on government by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMGMAN) for an import adjustment of 20 per cent tax on imported finished pharmaceutical products of HS Code 3003 and HS Code 3004. According to him, PMGMAN’s push was a good omen for the Nigerian government, but, he argued that if the suggestion is adopted, it would unleash an untold hardship on patients who are the end purchasers and users of the medicines. Asuni, explained that the products with HS Code 3003 and HS Cod 3004 include life saving medicines used to treat chronic diseases earlier mentioned. 

According to him, the drugs required for treating these ailments are not produced locally, therefore levying tax on these drugs means that many Nigerians will be paying more for their drugs. “Most Nigerians live below the poverty line currently estimated at 60.9 per cent and only about 3.5 per cent are covered under National Health Insurance Scheme, so increasing tax on these essential products will plunge many into financial challenges. 

Beside, access to healthcare is a fundamental human right so without equitable access to essential medicine, this fundamental right cannot be fulfilled. “In Nigeria, over 70 per cent of essential medicines that are required are imported, while less than 30 per cent are supplied by the local pharmaceuticals manufacturers (PMGMAN, 2014). This is because no local manufacturer has the requisite technology as of now, to manufacture some critical and life saving medicines such as insulin and vaccines,” NIROPHARM boss said. 

According to Asuni, who is also the Managing Director of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited, the HS Code 3003 and HS Code 3004 include essential drugs used in the treatment of chronic diseases, which are on the rise among Nigerians (current risk exposure is 10.4 percent), and are currently not produced locally and must then be imported to save lives. “For instance, recent evidence-based guidelines for the management of Type 2 diabetes recommend early ‘insulinisation’ for those difficult to control with oral hypoglycaemic. The resultant effect of increasing the taxes is that the approximately over six million Nigerians that will qualify to receive insulin and other life-saving medicines under this guideline will needlessly be paying more for their medications,” he further said. 

While also calling for zero percent tariff on manufacturers’ raw materials, he said manufacturers involved in importation are also engaged in research and development which brings about technology transfer that will be beneficial to the local industry and the economy. The association also argued that the CET will ensure reduced smuggling of medicine as a result of the standardized tariffs across the West African sub-region. NIROPHARM Chief said: “Prior to the adoption of the CET, medicines were more expensive in Nigeria compared to other ECOWAS countries like Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic. 

This prize differences resulted in high level of cross-border smuggling of medicines and parallel import, and consequently loss of revenue to Nigerian unregistered companies and the government. With the CET, it will be easier to combat fake and adulterated medicines which have besieged the industry.” Rather than doing away with the ECOWAS CET and jeopardizing the health of Nigerians, NIROPHARM has proposed that raw materials for the local pharmaceutical manufacturing be allotted zero per cent importation tariff. “Access to funds should be available to local manufacturers at lower digit interest rates. 

The incentives from the federal government to local manufacturers should be retained and sustained,” he said. “Whilst it is a development imperative for the Nigerian government to support local manufacturing across all industrial sectors, we affirm that this PMGMAN position, albeit based on an unsubstantiated premise that any additional taxes on the products will be passed on to the patients, should be deemed invalid, as there are more benefits accruable to the wider Nigerian pharmaceutical industry and most importantly Nigerians, if the CET is retained, supported and sustained,” said the NIROPHARM President said. 

“Let me point out that you do not jumpstart manufacturing by fiat or decree,” Ike Onyechi, MD, Alfa Pharmaceuticals and Stores, warned. “While government must ensure that manufacturers get their raw materials, I will like to point out some of the drugs in question cannot be produced here for now, owing to low capacity of the local industry,” Onyechi said.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on August 15, 2015.


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