70% target since 2005: Nigeria not ready for local drugs manufacture

Nigeria is not ready to take over local manufacture of essentials drugs needed in the country, according to a group of drugs manufacturers under the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN).

They lamented in Port Harcourt last weekend saying manufacturing in-country was too harsh. They told newsmen that they have suffered much in trying to manufacture drugs in Nigeria, and that the effort brings nothing but pain to them.

The leader of the group, Sam Ohuabunwa, who just stepped down as leader in Port Harcourt after the 94th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Conference, told newsmen at his exit press briefing that people of his generation who pledged to make Nigeria produce most drugs locally have been thoroughly disillusioned and frustrated.

Answering questions at the side hall of the Diete-Spiff Civic Centre in Port Harcourt Saturday, November 6, 2021, Ohuabunwa said this was the first time a sitting Nigerian president devoted attention and funds to the dire need to manufacture at home.

He however regretted that the N100 billion Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Fund was too small to make impact, but shared hope that the next batch of another N100 billion up to the fourth, which may get to N400 billion, if followed through, would make some impact.

Ohuabunwa said Covid-19 must have really shocked Nigeria into action when the countries she relied on for drugs, such as India, stopped exportation of drugs.

He said the 70 percent target was set as far back as 2005, but that not much had been done to meet it. Other authorities said Nigeria was hovering around 30 percent.

The outgoing president said this was 2021 and Nigerian pharmacists are still dreaming about 70 percent.

Read Also: Nigerians have more preference for imported drugs than locally produced ones – Nebe

Listing the factors holding Nigeria down in the drugs sector, Ohuabunwa of Emzor group mentioned harsh investment climate in Nigeria as key. He said this has been chronically bad. “Capital is competitive and capital goes to area of least harm and best returns. The harsher your investment climate, the more investments and capital avoid your region.’

The next he pointed out is what he called policy instability and unpredictable policy environment. “Investors want to understand the policy of your government in their area of business and when they see it, they want to believe that it will be so predictable for a reasonable period of time. A situation where change of the minister or commissioner of health will change everything you people knew about government is not good for investors.

“For example, you state as a government that you want local manufacture of drugs but you boost importation by making local tariff 15 per cent but make importation duty zero. You do nothing about smuggling such that those who manufactured drugs are dumped out of the market. Drugs enter through many routes. You borrow from banks but somebody smuggles into the same market and you can hardly survive with the huge loans.”

He equally mentioned what he called policy implementation difficulties, saying to have frequent changes in policy is one evil, to have policy not fully implemented or not implemented at all is another evil that blocks investment. “If you look back, you see a lot of policies that remain on paper. So, if you invested ahead thinking that soon, such policy would kick in, you end up a big loser because it was not implemented at all was not fully implemented.”

Ohuabunwa, once the head of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), mentioned funding, saying the usual the 180-day loan syndrome is not good for manufacturing. “It is too harsh. We have suffered much in trying to manufacture drugs in Nigeria. It is nothing but pain to do it.’

He said he had to bow out of his firm because of his difficulties and beliefs. “That is why I retired to allow others run my manufacturing firm. I kept faith with manufacturing drugs while most persons will just do packaging and make more profit. So, since I cannot do it, I stepped down so others can run the firm. It is frustrating scenario. You will suffer to take loan to manufacture but others will destroy the market. You end up looking stupid. It is only in this Covid pandemic that we saw for the first time what looks like government seriousness to push local manufacture of drugs with the N100Bn CBN fund for research and production, but it is still far from target.”

He said Government just seemed to realize this during Covid-19 pandemic when India stopped exporting and Nigeria that heavily relied on them suffered shock. “The CBN N100Bn fund is a good reaction. It is given at less than nine per cent interest with one year grace period (moratorium). We are expecting the second tranche and if it can get to the 4th tranche (N400Bn total), this would then make some impact.’

Despite this, he wondered, what is government going to do about what he called harsh investment environment. “The duty of any government is to create business and investment climate, create job opportunities, and not just award contracts for construction or managing oil industry that is just drilled from the soil by others. There seems to be a rethink about local drugs production, but let’s wait and see.”

On fake drugs and hawking of drugs everywhere in Nigeria, the outgoing PSN president this is the most painful thing to see. “Advocacy is the only thing pharmacists and the PSN can do. The PSN does not have guns to chase after the fake drugs people. The police and army should.”

He said the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is not even well equipped to fight this. “They only report to the police. The Bill to empower the PSN to act is lying on Mr President’s table. So, we say, sign that law. Its one of the hanging fruits, one of the earliest actions available to the president. The borders are porous, so people bring in drugs anyhow. People even bring in guns, let alone drugs. The security agencies seem helpless. Anything can come in.”

He said the body of pharmacists is not a touting organization but a professional body with a lot of ethics. “We only present our matters to the government through official channels. We talk to the public about some issues when it is necessary. We have asked the government to give us better rules of regulation and implement the ones already enacted. We plead, treat PSN fairly.”

He said explained what he meant by specialization now coming in the pharmacy practice when pharmacy is already a specialized medical practice. “We mean sub-specialties such as oncology, pediatrics, psychiatry, neuro-surgeon, etc. It is so with medicine as a branch of study. Medicine is deepening these days and is going into minute details. So the study and practice are also going into specialties.

“Before, medicine was divided into two; everything inside and everything outside, now, you see those who study only an inch of the alimentary canal or digestive system.”

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