The recent visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the Republic of China deserves commendation from Nigerians because of the obvious diverse benefits accruable to the country on account of that strategic move by the incumbent administration.
Apart from infrastructural development, rehabilitation of our ailing transport system, revitalisation of the agriculture sector which the trip seemed to have focused on, the policy of currency swap being entered into by both countries has the capacity of boosting trade and commerce relations much faster between Nigeria and China than the other agreements reached during the visit.
Interestingly, both countries had prior to the recent bilateral agreements been enjoying robust business relations, but the new policy would not only deepen the existing relations between both countries, it also has the potentials of stimulating increased imports from China.
In the light of this development therefore, we believe that this is an auspicious time for authorities in the health sector to begin the process of redesigning its policies especially as it relates to importation of pharmaceutical products and align them strategically to be able to tap fully into the expected benefits of Mr. President’s visit to China.
It must be understood that the visit by President Buhari was essentially designed by the presidency to open windows of opportunities for the development of the key sectors of the nation’s economy for which the health sector occupies a strategic position. The authorities in the health sector must therefore be alive to its responsibility by taking a lead role in digesting the implications of the new policy and commit to converting it positively to the advantage of the masses of this country.
One of the immediate actions expected of the incumbent Minister of Health in this regard is to facilitate early appointment of a Pharmacist Director-General of NAFDAC who would be bringing to bear on his job professional discretion, experience and witty ideas to strengthen the operations of the agency. The new NAFDAC helmsman when appointed should be able to fashion out ways that will effectively guide the Hon. Minister in formulating and implementing new policies that will drive the importation of pharmaceutical products into Nigeria going forward.
A stakeholders meeting involving Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, and authorities in NAFDAC must also be held by the new NAFDAC boss. This should be aimed at getting first-hand information on the challenges facing these important groups in the pharmaceutical industry with a view to accommodating their shades of opinion in the planning and implementation of a new import policy.
The import of such a meeting is predicated on the repeated calls for a review of the current tariff policy on imported pharmaceutical products – by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. While we support the enactment of a zero percent tariff on importation of raw materials for the local production of pharmaceutical products which is at the centre of agitation by local manufacturers, we are also appealing to government to place embargo on importation of pharmaceutical products that can be manufactured locally.
We suggest that on assumption of office, the NAFDAC boss should partner with relevant security agencies saddled with policing our borders to ensure that only accredited importers and approved pharmaceutical products are allowed into the country.
Similarly, authorities in NAFDAC should review its surveillance strategy periodically and make it more sensitive to detecting the most sophisticated of heinous plans aimed at bringing into the country counterfeited pharmaceutical products. This has become necessary because the new window of opportunity may attract un-intended consequences of the policy. The enforcement unit of the agency should be alive to its responsibility of reining in and prosecuting offenders who may want to abuse this policy for their own selfish and nefarious gains. This will certainly go a long way to serve as deterrent to others.