The Honourable Minister of Health, Isaac Folorunso Adewole, a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology spoke exclusively with BusinessDay’s Health Editor, Kemi Ajumobi on reasons for scarcity of drugs, closure of all open drug markets among others. Excerpts
What is responsible for drug scarcity and soaring prices of medicines in pharmacies nationwide?
Over time the country pharmaceutical industries could only meet 35% of our need of medicines due to poor infrastructure and other challenges. This challenge of low capacity utilization in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals has compelled the country to rely heavily on importation of the remaining medicines to meet in-country needs. With the recession that the country is currently experiencing along with scarcity of forex, its high cost further impacted in the importation cost of medicines in Nigeria and its eventual selling price.
Attempt to interview Pharmacists and NAFDAC officials about the situation have met a brick wall. What is your Ministry’s plan to resolve the situation?
The reasons for inadequate availability of medicines required to meet the needs of Nigerians have earlier been highlighted. Poor infrastructure is the major challenge militating against the adequate production of drugs required in the country. This challenge can only be addressed multi-sectorially and requires collaboration of many ministries, departments and agencies of government and thus goes beyond the mandates of my ministry. As part of efforts to promote local production of medicines towards ensuring adequate availability to meet the needs of Nigerians, my Ministry will work with The Ministry of Finance as well Industry, Trade and Investment in the following areas:
• Obtain waiver for local manufacturers of pharmaceuticals to obtain forex at official rate
• Secure tax waiver for local manufacturers for importation of active pharmaceutical ingredients and favourable duties and tariffs
• The Local manufacturers to facilitate access to loan for the use of these companies from the Bank of Industry
Considering the nation’s pharmaceutical sector does not have the capacity to cope with the population demand, should there not be a plan, a road map to first increasing manufacturing capacity before restrictions are put in place?.
Though there is low capacity utilization in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, restriction is placed only on importation of pharmaceuticals (18 in number) that the country is producing in sufficient quantities to meet local needs. This was done to protect the industries that are producing drugs and safe foreign reserves that would have been used in importing the drugs. Examples of these drugs include Paracetamol tablet, Metronidazole tablet, Vitamin B Complex tablet, Co-trimoxazole tablet, Ferrous Sulphate tablet, Folic Acid tablet, Magnisium Trisilicate e.tc
From our findings, manufacturers and importers recount the difficulty they encounter in working with NAFDAC. What is your Ministry’s plan to enhance the ease of doing business with your agencies especially NAFDAC?
I am aware that the challenges which manufacturers and importers encountered while working with NAFDAC received prompt attention
• Manufacturers and importers of drugs and other products regulated by NAFDAC registered their products with the Agency. The registration is done on line and is completed within the shortest period provided the required documentations are submitted along with payment of stipulated fees.
• NAFDAC is equally responsible for ensuring that locally manufactured drugs are safe and of good quality. This is achieved through inspection of manufacturing plant for current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP).
• I am aware the Agency has competent and dedicated officers who are doing and have not been found wanting in the discharge of their duties.
• The services being provided by the Agency can however be improved upon.
The open drug markets in Nigeria are still thriving while neighboring West African Countries and much of Africa have conquered this menace that is a source of fake and counterfeited drugs. When will Nigeria join these nations?
The Government is in the process of closing all the open drug markets. This is in line with the provision of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines recently developed by the Ministry. With the implementation of these guidelines which will commence from this month July 2017, the operators of the open drug markets will be relocated to a regulatory environment called Coordinated Wholesales Centers (CWC). In order to achieve this, the Ministry alongside its agencies involved in the regulation of drugs and practice of Pharmacy, NAFDAC and PCN respectively have been meeting with the stakeholders on how to achieve a rational drug distribution for Nigeria including closure of all open drug markets. There have been tremendous collaboration with the stakeholders on this; Nigeria that in this month of July 2017 all the open drug markets will be phased out in the country.