Pharm. Gbenga Falabi is the General Manager Green Life Pharmaceuticals Limited, and the National Chairman of Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP). In this interview with PharmaTimes Correspondent, GABRIEL IFINNWA, he gives an insight into how the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria can stop being import dependent, and why a pharmacist should be appointed as the Director General of NAFDAC. Excerpts:
What are your achievements as National Chairman of the Association of Industrial Pharmacists (NAIP)?
First, we set out (I and my executive) to ensure unity of purpose within the industry. That was the mandate we were given. Secondly, as an association we looked at ways we can improve on the welfare of our members. Also, to strategise on ways the profession can contribute to overall growth and advancement of the health care sector in the country. Looking back, I will say, we are happy that with God’s grace we achieved much in 4 years. Foremost, we have in place the February bi-monthly economic meeting which has become an event the whole industry look forward to. We bring in economic experts during this meeting to speak on various economic issues relating to different aspects of Nigeria’s economy. I can say that members/pharmacists are more knowledgeable and can discuss much better about the industry. On our agenda to improve welfare of members, capacity building is very important. For instance, if I am relevant to a business, the employer/organisation should be able to appreciate what I can offer that business or organisation.
This will definitely bring about value creation, more money in business, thus more money will be accrued to the individual. This was the approach the National Executive took. Our national conference in the last 4 years witnessed a lot of turn-out of members. Members/pharmacists/stakeholders were scampering to attend. In an association of over 250 corporate members, you find close to 150 members willing to attend. Some members who could not attend, you find that they usually request for the keynote speakers address/presentation. We also took advantage of technology and set up a website for the association. Every 72 hours we upload all papers at our various meetings. This has gone a long way in improving our membership and also helped to bridge the gap within the industry. Right now we have 3 major trade groupings within the industry (i.e. local manufacturers, Importers and representatives of multinationals within the country). What NAIP has done is to create a platform for interaction. Also, NAIP was able to intervene in collaboration with the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) to discuss the government’s import tax adjustment. The reaction could have been worse, if not for the intervention.
The issue of drug over-dose has resulted in deaths in Nigeria. What do you think should be done?
This is one of the things, which unfortunately I was not able to do during my tenure. To raise enough funds to create awareness campaigns and sensitisation programmes for some of these issues. I certainly believe that the Government through the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has a budget and so do have a major role to play in sensitising the citizenry. The first thing they tell you at the school of pharmacy is that all drugs are poison. It is important we get Nigerians to recognise this fact. I have been in a pharmacy where a patient walks in and asks for ibucap, paracetamol and other drugs of the same mechanism. This is really wrong. The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria also has a role to play alongside the other technical groups such as NAIP, ACPN, among others. Intensive awareness campaign should be the focus instead of the constant bickering in the sector.
Do you think the substantive DG NAFDAC should be a pharmacist?
The law says a Pharmacist /pharmaceutical scientist should be appointed as the Director General of NAFDAC. I do believe that those that made the law are very competent enough, that is why the law was made. I was in chat with some group where we all noted that it is only in this profession where we do minimally 6 pharmacological training. No other health profession in the country go through such amount of training. Pharmacologists are trained to know what the effect of drug in the body is. So, who else should be at the helm of affairs to regulate the drug sector, if not someone who is trained for that purpose?
Do you think the new drug distribution guideline has reduced the scourge of fake drugs in Nigeria?
Drug distribution is a major tool in fighting counterfeiting. The drug distribution guideline in Nigeria was launched few years ago. As we speak it is already in place. In July this year, the enforcement will begin. Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria (PCN) as part of the guideline will ensure that we no longer have sales/medical representatives hawking pharmaceuticals. PCN will also be able to look at companies itself where these drugs are being sold. I believe strongly, if well enforced it can be able to curb the scourge of fake drugs in the country which unfortunately has gone up in the last couple of months. This is due to the fact that genuine manufacturers were not able to access foreign exchange. And also, I believe that the delay in appointing a substantive D.G NAFDAC is not helping matters.
How can the pharmaceutical industry stop being import dependent?
During our last national conference held recently, we focused more on this. Right now about 70% of pharmaceuticals are being imported into the country. The local manufacturers have come to say that their members are producing at less than 20% of installed capacity. What we have been driving through NAIP is for our local manufacturers to see today’s importers as potential prospects/customers. Right now, we have 70% of people who want to trade within the pharmaceutical industry who have found such capacity and capability to outsource outside the shores of Nigeria. The onus lies with the local manufacturers to take the initiative. In the same way, the Indian exporters/ manufacturers come into Nigeria to organise a trade engagement with potential Nigerian manufacturers. Local manufacturers should do the same. Rather than bring machine owners from India, let them have an expo or forum where manufacturers or Technical Directors’ capabilities in Nigeria are targeted in tandem with current happening in the sector. Also, during my opening remark during the last conference I talked about the vaccine laboratory wasting away in Yaba, Lagos. We called on the government during that conference to look at the facility. Just recently, the Federal Executive Council approved the laboratory to produce vaccine in collaboration with the MOU signed between the federal ministry of health and May & Baker. This is a good step in the right direction, taking into consideration the recent meningitis outbreak in the country. The Government at all levels should make the health sector a major priority in Nigeria. The Oil & Gas sector has become a major priority for all. For some, it is okay to have scarcity of drugs. This is not a good sign at all. When health is put as the number one priority, we then can build a healthy society. We have the health insurance scheme, but how can we make the scheme more sustainable and thus create more awareness for the scheme. This should be the way to go.
What role should the government play to make drugs become more affordable in Nigeria?
My association and other trade groups within the industry made several representations to the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Finance and Health Ministry, and other agencies to get more access to needed funds. Even the local manufacturers, 98 percent of their input are import based. If you consider those with their manufacturing business outside the shores of the country, you will find that the industry is highly import-dependent. And we need access at a very good rate. What the government should do now is to grant more access at the official window to the needed forex. Also, the government needs to become more transparent with the bidding process especially for medicines. Thirdly, I think NAFDAC should look beyond bio-equivalence before products are registered. I am not saying that bio-equivalence is not a pointer, but NAFDAC needs to take it a step higher and look at bio-availability. Price should also not be mainly the basis. I want to add that we have some local manufacturers who are in the process of getting the WHO qualifications for some products. We also should look at the products in circulation.
What roles should a pharmacist play in the health care system, taking into consideration their training?
The training of pharmacist, I think has little to play in improving our health care indices. It is important for other health care players to recognise that all professionals in the sector all have a role to play. Let us take a look at a football team for instance. There is no way a striker will not play with the midfielders, talk-less the goalkeepers cannot do without his defenders. So the health care system is all about team work. The Doctor knows everything about the disease, so also the pharmacist knows about the drugs. Where then is the competition? At the end of the day the patient will suffer – unfortunately. The patient plays a big role too in all of this. The patient knows where it hurts. On getting things better, it is on recognising the roles of each professional in the sector.