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Government needs to encourage local manufacturers to boost capacity- Ajah

PATRICK AJAH, managing director and CEO of May & Baker Nigeria Plc, in this interview with GBEMI FAMINU, speaks about the strategies adopted by the company to survive the pandemic and its plans going forward.

May & Baker saw its first-quarter 2021 results showing a 478 percent increase in profit to N247 million from N42 million in the same period of 2020. The firm also reported revenue increase of N2.7 billion, a 50 percent increase compared to the N1.8 billion revenues reported last year. What is the company doing differently?

This Growth is majorly driven by our aggressive sales drive. We did not only stop at boosting our sales and marketing efforts, we also reviewed some of our strategies to expand into a wider market,making sure to maintain a steady balance between our short-term and long-term goals. It is imperative to mention that May & Baker has always focused on rendering the best of service for all her customers’ needs at all times; hence ensuring customer loyalty especially in difficult times like we presently have. We believe these have helped us achieve the impressive numbers mentioned above.

Interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria to healthcare companies as part of a stimulus package to manage the health crisis, which included access to a N100 billion fund, as well as lower borrowing rates, has also been a boost to most companies in your sector. How is this affecting your company’s operation?

This has helped to lower finance costs and improve liquidity, however the impact is not immediate because much of the fund is strictly matched to infrastructural projects which take time to activate and accessing forex for these projects has been difficult, further increasing lead times. A further help with access to Forex and grace period for interests based on lead times for the projects would have been very good. Overall it is very welcome given the high interest rates if we were to access same funds from other sources.

A tough macro-economic environment, scarcity of foreign exchange to import raw materials and cash strapped consumers remains major challenges. How is May & Baker navigating through these challenges?

As mentioned earlier, customer loyalty has been a key factor for us. We also try to reward this loyalty through some good incentives to help cushion the pressure on consumers and attaract new customers. We obviously have to plan better, though difficult, to ensure availability of raw materials in the midst of the forex challenges and inefficient supply systems.

Drug makers have also battled the effect of drug smuggling through the nation’s porous border posts, while drug faking and adulterated medicines continue to thrive in quack medicine kiosks and roadside medicine shops. How can we solve thesechallenges?

To address this challenge, one has to look into the root cause of the proliferation of Substandard or Fake medicinal products.Penetrable borders, absence of scanners at the various ports and borders, coupled with huge unmanned borders spanning several kilometres in different geographical locations contribute significantly to the increase in the influx of fake drugs into the country.

We also have the unfortunate burden of having to deal with the menace of corrupt conduct of shippers, clearing agents, freight forwarders and border security agencies who aid in the conspiracy surrounding false declaration and concealment.

A multifaceted approach will be needed to address/reduce the menace of fake and substandard products including; establishment of more NAFDAC offices at critical boarder locations with automated clearance processes to help identify fake products; improved intelligence monitoring and tracking systems by regulatory agencies to identify sources of drug products and to validate such sources. Also, adequate sensitization of all stake holders on the dangers of fake drugs and how to identify fakes; and the Nigeria Pharmaceutical Traceability Strategy intends to achieve supply chain visibility and strengthen pharmacovigilance activities against the scourge of Substandard and Falsified Medicines and Medical Devices by the end of the year 2024. There is a need to launch this project immediately if this objective is to be achieved. This will be another way of helping to track fake and substandard products most of which are usually not registered with NAFDAC.

There is also the need to streamline the drug distribution system in Nigeria such that there is proper visibility of outlets where pharmaceutical products are sold and to ensure they are sold and stored under proper conditions by qualified personnel. Regulatory agencies and governments also need to encourage and work with local manufacturers to boost capacity in order to meet the needs of the population and reduce dependence on imported medicines. It is a lot easier to regulate local manufacturers and also track locally manufactured products than imported ones.

Read also: Leveraging technology, value addition seen giving local manufacturers advantage in AfCFTA

May & Baker Nigeria was selected by French pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi, for a domestic manufacturing contract. Under the agreement, May & Baker Nigeria, in partnership with Sanofi Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Sanofi, would be using its manufacturing facility to produce 5major product brands of Sanofi for sale in Nigeria and the West African market. How is the project going?

The project is going on smoothly and we do appreciate the confidence of Sanofi on our company. May & Baker has been manufacturing the needed quantities of two stock keeping units (SKUs) – Flagyl tablets and Flagyl suspension for Sanofi.

The COVID pandemic slowed things down and this resulted in the delay in increasing the portfolio of Sanofi Products currently manufactured by May & Baker. Plans are however ongoing to ensure we begin the manufacturing of the other Sanofi products according to their plan.

What is your major strength in the industry? How have you handled the competition and what are you doing differently?.

Our major Strenght in the Industry lies in our Quality Standards. Apart from being the first Pharmaceutical company in Nigeria (1944), MBN has distinguished itself over the years as a leading healthcare brand through manufacturing and distribution of internationally acclaimed quality range of medicines. We have recorded a number of great achievements in the industry such as being one of the four local Nigerian firms that their production facilities were proclaimed WHO-GMP compliant by the World health organization in 2014. We have since then continued to maintain that quality standard alongside NIS ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems.

Other strategic competitive advantages include our corporate heritage which spans over 77 years of addressing the Pharmaceutical needs of Nigerians and the entire West-African sub-region at large.

The huge investment in our world – class WHO GMP certified production facility in Ota, the Pharma Centre is in line with ourcommittment to providing high quality medicines for the Nigerian and African markets.

We have managed to stay ahead of the competition by leveraging on consumer insights to understand the needs of our consumers to ensure that we constantly meet their needs. We also endeavour to leverage on the People-Process-Technology framework to optimise our operations.

Our most valuable competitive asset “Our people” are highly motivated and well trained to deliver on our customer requirements. We have also invested in technological solutions such as ERP, HR solutions, Sales Force automation tools to drive our processes.

Furthermore, the enormous production capacity and the high quality standards of our Pharma centre constitute a major strategic competitive advantage. Our partnership with Sanofi is a clear attestation to this as most of our competitors neither have the capacity nor the quality standards to meet the requirements of multinational firms such as sanofi.

What is the next big news we will receive from May & Baker Plc?

M&B is finalizing a number of strategic partnerships and soon we will be announcing some of the big ones.

We are however at the final stages of our Standardized Herbal product Manufacturing plant. When completed, this plant will enable us produce at commercial quantities some of our locally researched and developed herbal products like Niclovix – a product of our partnership with NIPRD (Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development).

This facility will also enhance our ongoing partnership with other local researchers and will be an encouragement for other local researchers in our different institutions.

A much bigger announcement will be the commissioning of a local state of the art vaccine manufacturing facility through our Joint Venture company, Biovaccines – a PPP joint venture between the Federal Government of Nigeria and May and Baker Nig. Plc. We have since intensified our efforts to ensure this project is commissioned as soon as possible and hopefully we should be making an announcement soon.

Nigeria currently spends about $100m on imported vaccines for routine immunization. A decision to produce most of these vaccines locally could not have come at a better time especially with the scourge of the ongoing COVID -19 pandemic and it’s effects on almost every aspect of our lives especially healthcare. We are acciduously working with the Federal government to ensure the project commences as soon as possible.

Where do you envision the company in ten years?

To be a leading Health Care Brand in Sub-Saharan Africa with foot prints in several African Countries. More importantly, we intend to play a leading role in research and development with a view to accelerating the local production of input materials through backward integration and thus reduce dependence on importation for most of our raw materials. We will continue to support indigenous research efforts, encourage local/contract manufacturing while forging strategic partnerships to elicit innovation.

QUOTE: We also have the unfortunate burden of having to deal with the menace of corrupt conduct of shippers, clearing agents, freight forwarders and border security agencies who aid in the conspiracy surrounding false declaration and concealment

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