• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Abdu Mukhtar: “Healthcare value chain initiative will make Nigeria self-sufficient in medical supplies”

Abdu Mukhtar: “Healthcare value chain initiative will make Nigeria self-sufficient in medical supplies”

“Unlocking Healthcare Value Chain,”, a presidential initiative, aims to attract substantial new investments into Nigeria’s healthcare system, stimulate local manufacturing, reduce drug costs, and implement other transformative measures.

It is led by the National Coordinator, Dr Abdu Mukhtar, an experienced professional who has worked in both the private and public sectors at national and international levels, including the African Development Bank.

Read also: How Abdu Mukhtar is driving the health value chain initiative to make Nigerians healthier

His responsibilities include using a cross-ministerial platform to forge collaboration to restructure the healthcare ecosystem and increase the share of local production of medical supplies.

In this exclusive interview with BusinessDay, Mukhtar puts the work of the initiative in perspective. He elaborates on the initiative’s future objectives and outlines the strategic approach to achieving these impactful outcomes.

What is this initiative all about?

The presidential initiative on “Unlocking the Healthcare Value- Chain” is about unleashing the power of the private sector to bring about medical industrialization and maximise value. With 220 million people and the largest pharmaceutical market in West Africa, Nigeria still imports over 70 percent of the essential medicines and drugs that we use. We still import all the vaccines and about 99 percent of the medical devices that we use. We also spend at least $1 billion on medical tourism annually because we don’t have well-equipped hospitals. This is not sustainable and poses significant health, security, and economic threats. The essence of this initiative is to create the enabling environment and requisite support for the private sector to reverse this ugly trend.

What is your plan to achieve this, and what does it require?

It requires several things, which is why my job title is “National Coordinator.” The task is essentially to bring together everybody. This is a government-wide effort, chaired by the Honourable Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare. But there are also other ministers—Finance, Trade and Industry, Budget, and Planning—who are members of the Council along with other agencies like NAFDAC, NIPRD, Customs, the Bank of Industry, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, MOFI, and representatives of the private sector. Other professional associations, like the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, etc., are also members. We’ll address policies and regulations that are anti-business in the health sector and make sure that they are in sync with global best practices. Once that is done, then the private sector will be ready to invest and to upscale and expand capacity, and we will be linking business owners to financial institutions to obtain the requisite financing.

What can we hope to see as the outcomes of these in the next one to three years?

What you’ll see is a reversal of some of these anomalies. The percentage of local production of healthcare products will increase significantly (thus driving down prices), and we will be spending less money on medical tourism. More jobs will be created in the healthcare sector.

To what percentage?

We are in the process of looking at the numbers and developing a clear roadmap. In three years, if we can bring the imports from 70 percent to 30 percent, that would be a good start. And mind you, no country in the world produces all of its medical products. You saw what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to be self-sufficient in at least the basic supplies to take care of our own people.

What is your vision for running this office, the first of its kind in this country?

We are an enabler. Our vision is for manufacturers and everybody to be happy, to make the environment investment-friendly, and, more importantly, to attain self-sufficiency and even export products. So, I want to see Nigerian-made drugs, vaccines, and devices all across West Africa, to begin with, across Africa, and then globally. I want to go to the U.S. and see Nigerian-made drugs on the market.

You are also aiming to reduce the cost of drugs?

Yes, because in the drug manufacturing market, there is a lot of dependence on imports. There are things called active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are the actual chemicals for drugs. Most of them are not produced here. So, if you have to use your scarce dollars, obviously when you produce, you’re going to sell at higher prices, but if you’re producing locally, if you have the R&D capability and opportunity to produce locally, prices will certainly go down. And of course, we’re not going to compromise quality. That’s why we need strong regulators. NAFDAC will do its job to make sure that the products are not of low quality.

When do we expect to see results?

As soon as possible. I started like a month ago, but I tell you, within this month, we have done a lot of work. We went to Brussels to meet with global investors in the health sector. We already have a big company in Europe that produces rapid diagnostic kits and has operations in the US, Asia, and many other places. They want to set up their first African facility right here in Nigeria. They are coming this month to talk to us. We already have plans to set up a biomedical campus. We already have vaccine-producing companies that are thinking of coming to start production. So, really, a lot of work is going on, and we have a lot of people who want to invest in healthcare.

In the last two to three months since the announcement of this initiative, many big players in the health sector, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Buffett Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation, etc., have been here. Financial institutions are also expressing a willingness to provide funding. The President has asked the Minister to submit an executive order, and we are working with the Attorney-General on it. Policy and regulatory issues will be taken care of in that order.

What challenges do you see, and how do you plan to tackle them, especially as you plan to work with a lot of people?

Of course, there are always challenges, and coordination is always difficult. But why I am not worried is that there is political will on the part of the government. Most of the institutions we have to work with on regulations and policies are government institutions, and they all report to the President. And the President is very clear that unlocking the healthcare value chain is important to the renewed hope agenda. There is also consensus that, as a country of over 200 million people, we cannot continue to rely on imports for all of our essential medical supplies, so there is a lot of support for this initiative.

This is a novel initiative, so what do you do to sensitise Nigerians about this initiative so that they know you exist and give you whatever support you deserve?

I would say two things: first, engagement with the media so they understand what we are doing. You are the voice of the public and will make sure you let Nigerians know what is happening. We appreciate and thank BusinessDay for really coming to speak with us. We will also be having stakeholder engagement in different states.

What is your motivation to work, and what legacy do you want to leave behind?

I have worked for the last six years at the African Development Bank, covering 54 countries. I have seen what other countries are doing, and I know the potential that this country has—the huge population, the talent, etc. I see no reason why international companies are setting up vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in small countries and not in Nigeria. So, my motivation is to help change things for the good of the country and for future generations.