Making adequate healthcare available to Nigerians is a major challenge just as almost two-thirds of the population exists below the poverty level. Part of the general objectives of medicine availability as espoused by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) in its last annual conference held in Umuahia, Abia State, is basically to increase locally manufactured medicines. Furthermore, the body of pharmacists aims to achieve about 70 percent local production as against the current 40 per cent of total medicines consumed in Nigeria – working in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health. And this ought to be the spirit.
Sometime ago when Nigeria had a Cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM) outbreak in March last year, we had to wait for vaccines to be supplied from overseas while 282 people lost their lives, and 1,966 people were infected as it spread from state to state.
If the country is able to produce vaccines locally, they will become more affordable and accessible to the people; it will even afford the country the privilege of exporting to the West African sub-region. This will as well boost a great deal of job opportunities thereby saving the nation a lot of resources, as well as curtail shortages, and the incessant delays incurred in sourcing vaccines from abroad especially in times of emergencies such as was the case during the Lassa fever outbreak and monkey pox epidemic, etc.
It is heart-warming that the federal government has expressed its unalloyed support for the local pharmaceutical manufacturers, both in words and action – towards making sure that up to 70 percent of the domestic drug needs is locally met. This is tailored towards satisfying the prevailing National Drug Policy.
The need for increased capacity in local drug production has been well recognised and it cannot be overemphasised. It is very pertinent to note that towards realising this aim, focus should be directed at the production of raw materials as well as intermediate products, in addition to formulation and packaging. Thus government ought to encourage local manufacturers to expand production capacity and base, not only with local patronage but also by putting in place favourable policies and waivers needed to stimulate action for sustained economic growth.
Turning to vaccine production, Nigeria imports 100% of its vaccines from abroad – chunking up about four to six billion naira of the nation’s resources annually; this is apart from six percent administrative charges paid to UNICEF each time for any quantity of vaccines the country gets supplied through the UN agency. And so government should be applauded for the recent approval of a joint venture agreement signed between it and May and Baker Plc aimed at producing vaccines in Nigeria for a period spanning 2017-2021.
We still have many children dying each year from vaccine-preventable diseases – making up about 22 percent of death of infants. Making the right moves in this wise will give the desired boost to the country’s campaign to prevent and even eradicate all the ever recurrent childhood diseases, and others such as – measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, tetanus, diarrhoea, pneumonia, influenza, hepatitis, as well as cervical cancer, etc.
In looking up to Asian giants like China and India, it is immediately vital to set the ball rolling in bringing back to life local vaccine production in Nigeria. While commending government’s efforts at attempting to encourage ease of doing business through the number of executive orders, the authorities still need to enforce the National Drug Policy making it compulsory for government at every level consider first and patronise locally manufactured pharmaceutical products by way of encouragement. Furtherance on this, it would therefore not be a bad idea for government to come out with a list of prohibited drugs for importation – products for which the local pharma industry possesses adequate capacity to meet local demands.
These measures if fully carried out will enable manufacturers of pharmaceuticals to begin to increase and even double capacity in no time, and achieve economies of scale. This will eventually lead to local companies attaining WHO GMP compliance, and be in a position to attract contract manufacturing for multinationals who hope to penetrate the Nigerian market, without having to put up their own manufacturing plants. And of course, we would certainly begin to see prices crashing, thereby making (quality) medicine availability a reality all over the land.