• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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World Malaria Day: Volatile naira slows Nigeria’s $23m Malaria drug factory

World Malaria Day: Volatile naira slows Nigeria’s $23m Malaria drug factory

The completion of a mega anti-malaria plant in Nigeria, which reported the most cases of the deadly disease globally in 2023, is being partly stalled by a volatile exchange rate, a source familiar with the project told BusinessDay.

The first-of-its-kind $23 million project led by Emzor Pharmaceutical Industries Limited is ramping up efforts to begin operations in the fourth quarter of 2024, after missing its initial plan to run last February, BusinessDay learnt.

Aspects key to equipping the two-phased Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) complex sited at Emzor’s Sagamu production campus were affected last year as the instability of the country’s rate became bearish on pharmaceutical products and equipment importation.

Read also: Malaria Consortium partners Nasarawa to eliminate malaria

Unfavourable policies surrounding imports already constitute a difficulty for manufacturers attempting to modernise factories or increase capacity.

“The policies, yes; implementation, no. We are well within our right to import these things. We have our license. We manufacture for API purposes. But that’s fine on paper. When it gets to Customs, it gets difficult,” Emeka Okoli told BusinessDay earlier.

“We need consistent policies so that we can attract foreign investors such as EIB,” Okoli said.

This year’s World Malaria Day 2024 is focused on “Accelerating the fight against malaria for a more equitable world”.

Given Nigeria’s position as the country with the largest burden of malaria disease in the world, Emzor aims to reverse the utter reliance on imports from China and India for finished anti-malaria drugs, by building a local capacity to feed the country’s demand.

Backed by a €13.85 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the API plant is designed to initially focus on the production of malaria medicines from formulation.

It will produce artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) which are the current standard for treating malaria due to their high effectiveness and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, another combination therapy typically considered a second-line treatment, especially in cases of drug resistance.

Nigeria spent an average of N13.4 billion importing these formulations in 2021, according to data from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

For a start, the company will source solvents from India’s Mangalam Drugs and Organics Limited until alternatives can be sourced locally.

Emzor is also working with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to develop a quality-assured formulation of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine to protect women, children, and infants from malaria.

Deficits in the supply and quality of malaria medicines have persisted as a major challenge to achieving self-sufficiency and drug security in Nigeria.

Despite a growing indigenous pharmaceutical market, over 70 percent of medicines in Nigeria are imported, with medicines accounting for about $4 billion within Nigeria’s total healthcare spend of $10 billion.

Read also: Nigeria in $124m scramble for malaria vaccine

Kate Isa, chief executive officer, Katchey Laboratories Limited, an independent analytical laboratory, said Nigeria needs more investors like Emzor in local production to change the dynamics of drug production.

“We need to start developing products that are useful and useable for Nigerians from research and development customized for us,” she said.

Of the 375 medicine producers in Africa, only six manufacture drugs to WHO prequalification standards, according to MMV. The rest are constrained by underinvestment, infrastructure limitations, and regulatory challenges.

This makes it crucial for Nigeria to have a diversified, locally sourced supply base to help prevent the risk of stock-outs and save more lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught this lesson as supply-chain disruptions led to the unavailability of many essential medicines, impacting other disease areas not directly linked to the outbreak.

Since then, many African countries have increased priority to move towards self-sufficiency in the production of quality medicines and other therapies.

“Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the mainstay of malaria treatment against the deadliest form of the parasite. A locally available, reliable source of ACTs, close to the patients who need them most, will save lives. This can also help displace products of substandard or unknown quality, which are known to contribute to resistance,” MMV stated in a report seen by BusinessDay.

According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), the rate of malaria in children under five is about 23 percent.

Malaria remains one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, killing nearly half a million children under the age of 5, and accounting for approximately 95 percent of global malaria cases and 96 percent of deaths in 2021.

Nigeria carries the largest burden of the disease in the world, with more than 23 percent of deaths recorded according to the World Malaria Report 2020. It is responsible for approximately 60 percent of outpatient attendance and nearly 30 percent of all hospital admissions in Nigeria.

Read also: NiMet warns of meningitis, malaria outbreak from adverse weather

Building an African pharmaceutical manufacturing sector that meets international quality standards will require pan-African and international collaboration and leadership bolstered by political will and far-sighted investors, MMV states. It will also require guidance and commitment from governments as well as private-sector cooperation.

As a private sector player, Emzor Pharmaceuticals has stayed committed to malaria combat through extensive research and development efforts in antimalarial drug manufacturing, instrumental to saving lives and reducing the burden of the disease.

Besides fulfilling the vital need for essential medicines, the initiative is also expected to spur the expansion of pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity in Nigeria.