By Enyeribe Ejiogu
The private sector-driven process to put Nigeria on the road to strategically reducing the country’s very high dependence on importation of over 70 percent of the drugs used in the healthcare system in the long term got an encouraging uptick when the Ebonyi State government under the leadership of Engineer David Umahi, the South East apostle of massive infrastructural development welcomed initiative of the National Association of Industrial Pharmacists, NAIP, to create an integrated pharmaceutical production city in the state.
NAIP appointed Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, as chairman of the Special Purpose Vehicle, SPV, it created to drive the process. Ohuabunwa, a seasoned pharmacist and corporate administrator, is the immediate past president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and former pioneer managing director of Neimeth Pharmaceuticals Plc.
In this interview, Chairman of NAIP and Managing Director of Tricare Pharmaceuticals Limited, Ken Onuegbu, talks about the huge project.
PSN national conference is usually a forum for articulating positions on government policies that affect practice of the profession. What can ordinary Nigerians look forward to as an outcome of the conference?
There was a call on the Federal Government to put in place some intervention measures that will ensure medicine security in the country. As a nation, we cannot actually say we are a sovereign nation or truly secure if 70 percent (or more) of the drugs we are using in the country are imported from India or China. The PSN used the opportunity of the conference to hammer on that; there is need for the government to galvanise the process for turning petrochemicals into precursors for the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), which will boost the production of drugs in the country. We made a clarion call on the government to put necessary infrastructure in place that will radically improve industrial production in the country. When these things are put in place, many Nigerians who are eager to invest in pharmaceutical industry will readily do so. Even professionals in the industry like myself will also invest. Moreover, we will be able to attract institutional investors and venture capitalists. But if the government does not resolve these issues, no investors will put money into the pharmaceutical industry. The current situation is a nightmare.
In 2023, a new administration will take over. Behind the scene, is the Pharmaceutical Industry canvassing policy frameworks with the leading presidential candidates and their own policy experts?
Yes, the PSN is actively working in this regard and the national body will come up with a robust communique that will layout a way forward and a policy statement, which a listening administration can adopt and use to create a revolutionary turnaround in local drug production as a strategic national economic security agenda. I have no doubt that the dynamic PSN leadership which is led by Professor Osifo is on top of this vital issue. As the country is preparing to usher in a new administration, the PSN is also getting ready to present a very robust policy document which the incoming administration can use to resuscitate and grow the local pharmaceutical industry. I believe very strongly that the PSN leadership will arm the next administration with a strategic plan for repositioning the pharmaceutical industry which is virtually in a comatose state. The Pharmaceutical industry requires radical intervention that will guarantee the local production and distribution of highly efficacious drugs that will be affordable and available, not the current arrangement that depends on importation. That way, we will be producing 70 percent of our drug needs while importing only 30 percent. For the past one year or so, the conversation in the industry has been focused on drug security.
What is the status of the research collaboration between the National Association of Pharmacists in Academia, NAPA and NAIP?
The collaboration with NAPA is ongoing, dynamic and futuristic. Two products have already come out of the collaboration. The stage we are right now is to register them with the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC and then give them a commercial push to make people doctors adopt and prescribe them for patients while community pharmacists will dispense in their pharmacies.
We have established communication with the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, NIPRD, which we want to use to pursue registration of the drug with NAFDAC. We have received a positive response from the Director General of NIPRD, which has agreed to make its facilities available to us. We have set up a strong committee made up of people with solid experience in registering drugs with NAFDAC.
NAIP has a pharmaceutical city project in Ebonyi State. At what stage is the project?
The Ebonyi Pharmaceutical Manufacturing City Project, Ebonyi Pharma Park, is moving very well, though it encountered some challenges here and there, primarily from the host communities, but the issues have resolved with the able support and intervention of the state government. All necessary agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) have been signed. NAIP has set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to champion its interest in the project. The chairman of the SPV is Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa. It is designed to be an integrated pharmaceutical hub or centre that emcompasses everything from drug production to other companies that provide adjunct services – coordinated warehouse centre, printing, packaging, freight, financial services, among others, in one city dedicated to the Pharmaceutical Industry. There will residential quarters for the workers, schools for their children and hospitals. The only place like that in Africa is in Ethiopia. So what we have is modelled after the one in Ethiopia. The Pharma Park will have huge gas turbine plants that will generate electricity. We are looking forward to power sector investors like Prof Barth Nnaji (Geometric Systems) and Femi Otedola to invest in power projects cited in the Pharma City. It have extensive vertical and horizontal integration of operations of firms in the city working together and serving one ultimate purpose: contribute to the purpose of attaining self-sufficiency in drug production.