• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Drug shortages loom as coronavirus stalls input supply, finished products

pharmacy stores

Nigeria may experience drug shortages in the coming months if the coronavirus continues its spread into the third quarter of the year, drug makers and experts predict.

More than 70 percent of resins and excipients used by Nigerian pharmaceuticals come from coronavirus-hit Asian countries, particularly China and India, who are now controlling shipments of the raw materials to other countries as a means of self-preservation and due to low economic activities. These countries also account for the majority of imported drugs used in Africa’s most populous country.

Some drug makers are already rationing supplies to pharmacy stores while middlemen are being cautious of selling certain quantity of drugs for fear of the unknown, BusinessDay gathered.

“I think there will be drug shortages in Nigeria if coronavirus continues,” Okey Akpa, chief executive of SKG Pharma, a major drug maker, told BusinessDay in a text message.

Akpa said this was why the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria had been advocating support for local drug manufacturers to achieve medicine security for the country.

Nigeria has reported 12 confirmed coronavirus cases, but demand for facemasks and hand sanitisers is currently outstripping supply. There is already panic buying of these items as uncertainty hovers over the cure of the virus. Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry has capacity utilisation of 47 percent, according to MAN, and is marred by recent shutdown/takeover of Swiss Pharma and Evans Medicals.

“With 120 days turnaround time from order to supply, we may be reaching the bottom in terms of product availability,” said Chidi Okoro, founder, Drugs and Medicaments.

He said the immediate to medium-term implications might be dire as the situation could involve vaccines, antibiotics and antimalarials.

Okoro advised NAFDAC to facilitate access to medicines by simplifying registration process for importers and manufacturers, urging the Federal Government to consider zero duty for all healthcare products over the next six months.

“Agencies at the ports must be mandated to clear all pharma products stuck at the ports without delay. We need those products to go through the difficult times we may be facing,” he said.

Nigeria does not have a strong petrochemical industry that can produce inputs for over 120 pharmaceutical firms who have invested almost N500 billion into the economy. Dangote Petrochemicals is in the offing, but analysts say the country needs at least five of such. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Wednesday announced N1.1 trillion intervention fund to support manufacturers and health-related sectors. It had earlier approved N50 billion cheap credit for small businesses and pharmaceutical firms.

Fidelis Ayebae, managing director, Fidson Healthcare plc, said middlemen were hiking prices and taking opportunities of the supply gaps. He said immediate scarcity might not occur in Nigeria as many firms had enough stock at the moment or in transit.

“Two months is my window of hoping that there will be a solution. If there is no solution in two months and it continues to spread as it is, then we might have a very great challenge in our hands,” he said.

He advised Nigerians to remain calm and not panic as local drug manufacturers were stepping up their game.

Sam Ohuabunwa, president, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), said the pharmaceutical industry should seek to increase its relevance and be less dependent on importation.

“We should be less dependent on imported inputs,” he said. “Let the industry spend more time to develop local inputs for production. We must begin to think how we can be more self-sufficient.”

Ohuabunwa said Nigeria was not doing sufficient public awareness about the coronavirus, stressing the need to combat it to save lives.

“We can see that the economy is calling for greater introspection. What can we do for ourselves if the external environment is getting difficult and doing business with China is getting difficult? What are those things we can do to meet our needs in drugs production?” he asked.

He advised firms to prepare for a difficult year, but be more internally focused and optimise opportunities around.

Chibuzor Opara, co-founder, DrugStoc, a multi-channel platform connecting drug manufacturers to hospitals and pharmacies, said there was supply-demand mismatch in terms of hand sanitisers and facemasks, dismissing the possibility of drug scarcity. He said a lot of manufacturers had enough drugs for the next six months and were willing to release them for the population.