Tackling Challenges in the Pharmaceutical Sector


While the Nigerian economic situation has been fingered as the major factor affecting the pharmaceutical sector, experts at the 92ndconference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria believe this can be addressed, Chinecherem Ojiako writes

The 92nd conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) which held recently at the Kaduna Trade Fair center, Kaduna, may have come and gone, but its key messages are worth highlighting.

Appropriately themed, “Navigating the Winds of Change in Professional Practice in a Volatile Economy,” the conference took a hard look at the impact of Nigeria’s economic volatility on the pharmaceutical landscape and offered some thoughts on the way forward.

In his opening address, the President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, alerted the conferees to the many changes in the global economy with implications for the pharmaceutical sector. Particularly, the challenges occasioned by the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

He warned that if Nigeria fails to make very strong strategic moves and find ways to optimise the opportunities and challenges presented by the changing global dynamics in trade, commerce and services, Nigeria’s manufacturing sector may be in for a long hard struggle. He expressed worry that the earliest casualty of this struggle may be the pharmaceutical industry given the marginal role they currently play in the Nigerian economy.

The PSN president also called on the federal government to accelerate the pace and scope of the improvements in Nigeria’s ease of doing business and competitiveness, in addition to enthroning legislative reforms that will further improve the attractiveness of Nigeria as an African investment hub.

He also used the opportunity to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to give assent to the long-standing Pharmacy Bill. Ohuabunwa believes that the Pharmacy Bill will help sanitise the pharmaceutical environment to make it more conducive to practice and invest. It will, according to him, also help to stem the tide of migration of Nigerian pharmaceutical professionals to other climes.

In his passionate delivery, the USA President of the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas (NAPPSA) Inc, Dr Anthony Ikeme, implored the conferees that it was time to “stop whining and start strategising”. According to him, “The time has come for us (the key players in this sector) to become more assertive, more proactive and to take our destiny in our own hands.”

He acknowledged the multiplicity of challenges facing the pharmaceutical sector, including, but not limited to: a lack of local raw materials; underdeveloped petrochemical and primary API manufacturing capacity; import dependence; low uptake of pharmaceutical technology; low research and development (R&D) capacity; and misaligned government policies. He, however, expressed the belief that the pharmaceutical sector should “adopt a problem-solving mentality rather than throw our hands in the air and complain.”

According to Ikeme, solving the above problems require collaboration and the elimination of silos amongst pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, not just within Nigeria but with their counterparts in Diaspora. He provided examples from the Indians, the Chinese and the Jews to demonstrate the transformational impact to a national economy that results from the synergistic collaboration between the homeland and Diaspora. He pointed out that in all the examples, the private citizens led the collaborative effort, and the government came along after momentum has been built.

He concluded with a clear message to his fellow pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists: “If we truly want to become part of the global pharmaceutical economy, if we want to be the driver of the change we seek, if we want to lift the pharmaceutical economic sector to take its rightful place as a major engine for economic growth, employment and overall national progress, then let us stand together in unity and work collaboratively with Nigerian Diaspora for the growth of the pharmaceutical sector by forming a purely private-sector driven PSN-NAPPSA Pharmaceutical Sector Development Focus Group”.

The keynote speech was delivered by a Professor of Political Economy and Management, Prof. Pat Utomi. In his highly informative speech, he identified education and the healthcare system as the fundamental determinant of economic development and national success.

According to him, the people who have the right to know-how, and know why and how well, can do anything. They can build roads; they can do all those things that translate to national development. But if they are not educated and are not well, human progress is fundamentally challenged.

He decried the current poor state of the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector. According to him, the fact that we live in a time where the majority of the pharmaceutical products consumed in Nigeria comes from India, China, Turkey and Indonesia suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with our national strategy.

He noted that no nation travels so far without a clear direction of where it is going. He suggested that Nigeria must go back to the drawing board by creating a national strategy for pharmaceutical sector development.

Prof Utomi agreed with the observation made by Dr Ikeme that the Nigerian Diaspora must be invited to the table and be integrally involved in the Nigerian transformation project. He charged the attendees to believe in themselves and their ability to make change. “It is possible for a determined people to convert adversity to triumph. He asked the conferees to feel inspired by the story of Singapore.

Prior to 1965, Singapore was a country with no natural resources who felt that the only way itcould survive was if its northern neighbour accommodated it. But in 1965, the unthinkable happened and Singapore wasejected by its northern neighbour. Things were so bleak that itsPresident, Lee Kuan Yew, literally cried. But he did not give up or despair. Rather, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work, and 35 years later, he wrote a book “From a Third World Country to First: The Story of Singapore – 1965-2000.”

The Governor of Kaduna State and chief host, Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, challenged the pharmacists and pharmaceutical science professionals to get actively involved in politics. He argued that progress is slow in Nigeria or lacking because the brightest amongst us cede the political stage to the touts and non-patriots.

He reminded the conferees of the words of the famous Greek philosopher, Plato, uttered 3000 years ago: “The danger we face when good people run away from politics is that we end up being governed by the worse people.” He implored the members of the pharmaceutical profession to change their mindset and see politics as a means to exerting influence on the process of transforming the pharmaceutical sector.

He shared four ways by which professionals can get involved in politics. The first being to join a political party and sit at the table when they are discussing; second is to choose to contest for leadership of the political party in wards or states and in that situation one can have a say in determining who leads the party or who becomes the governorship candidate or even the presidential candidate; three is to support a candidate with one’s money or influence; and four is to be a candidate for political influence.

Other dignitaries at the conference included: the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Dr Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe; Minister of State for Health, Dr Adeleke Mamora; the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Christiana Moji Adeyeye; the CEO/MD of Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Mrs Stella Okoli; past Presidents of PSN, including Alhaji (Pharm) Ahmed Ibrahim Yakasai, Pharm Olumide Akintayo, Pharm Azubuike Okwor, Pharm (Sir) Anthony Akhimien, and many others.