By Peter Obi
Different countries have their own peculiarities; each with a sector that generates the most income for her. For several of them, the pharmaceutical industry plays a key role in their economies. This is not surprising as health is the most precious need of man; one necessity human beings can spend their last kobo seeking.
Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP] is about US$400 billion to which the pharmaceutical industry contributes 0.25-0.30%, approximately US$1-US$1.2 billion. The GDP of China is 12 trillion US Dollars and its pharmaceutical industry contributes US$120-150 billion or 1-1.25%. In India, the pharmaceutical industry accounts for US$40 billion or some 2% of her US$2.3 trillion GDP. By comparison to Nigeria, the pharmaceutical industry in many other countries is major player in their economies.
In the late 1980s to early 1990s, the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria enjoyed robust activities in local manufacturing, dominated by such global operators as May & Baker, Pfizer, Glaxo, Welcome, Hoechst, Bayer, Smithkline Beecham, Upjohn, Sandoz, Ciba-Geigy, and Parke Davies.
In the wake of the downturn in the economy and devaluation of our currency, virtually all the multi-nationals exited the country, with local manufacturing firms taking over. Though they reasonably remained active, they could only cover some 20% of the nation’s pharmaceutical needs, with virtually all their raw materials imported. With such high-level import-dependency and a regime of scarce foreign exchange, the operating environment was stifling.
To further illustrate the inadequate capacity of local manufacturers to meet the nation’s pharmaceutical needs, I will draw attention to two critical issues, namely: developments: The Global Initiative on Malaria and Vaccine Availability. When the Global Initiative on Malaria was launched in Nigeria, basic anti-malaria drugs that local manufacturers could produce were imported from WHO-pre-qualified factories. On vaccines, way back in 1948, Nigeria owned a vaccine Production Laboratory that produced vaccines for small pox, yellow fever and rabies. It was shut down in 1980 supposedly for upgrade and increased capacity; but alas, these never materialized even after expenditures of millions of US Dollars. One of the sophisticated equipment – procured in 1995 for the sum of US$1.2 million – is still in a crate in the premises of the Federal Vaccines Production Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos. Consequently, today, Nigeria is the world’s largest importer of vaccines.
This has further rendered the country insecure and vulnerable to such threats as biological warfare.
Countries stand to gain tremendously from active and thriving local industries. For example, if Nigeria has a robust pharmaceutical industry that produces a wide range of products, including vaccines, for local consumption and export, it would ensure regular supply of drugs and prompt responses to health emergencies like out-breaks of yellow fever and cerebro-spinal meningitis – thereby averting avoidable deaths. Local production will provide employment for Nigerians; and the capacity to export will not earn foreign exchange for the country, but save millions of foreign currencies that would have gone into importation and medical tourism. A thriving pharmaceutical industry will also ensure Nigerians’ participation in an industry at the cutting edge of science through technology acquisition and capacity building. In the area of vaccine production, for instance, it will stimulate research into all types of vaccine, including elements of thermos-stability, safety, efficacy evaluation and shelf-life.
Today, most progressive economies are always exploring means of improving their industries. The competition is vigorous and a moment’s lapse will give other countries an edge. In the midst of global challenges, it is my humble call on the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria to put on their thinking caps and examine their corporate existence and contributions to the building of a better Nigeria. As the saying goes: “An unexamined life of a person or corporate body is not worth living”.
Even as we reflect on past failures and successes, we should not dwell so much on it, because it is gone. Dwelling on the past will only sap our energies to think and work for the future. The world Pharmaceutical market today is worth a trillion US Dollars, from which Nigerian manufacturers and businesses are completely shut out as we are not exporters. It is also revealing that India and China were once where we are in terms of importation, consequent on not manufacturing enough for their needs. Today, they are not only producers of raw materials and finished products sufficient for their own markets, but are major net exporters to the global markets, earning huge foreign exchange for their countries.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria must urgently organize fora on how to reverse the situation. At present, local manufacturers account for only 20% of national needs. The Society can set a target of 50% contribution to national needs in 10 years. By the year 2030 – when the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] will come to an end – we would have closed the gap. Towards attaining this, operators should generate local sources for their raw materials; commencing with pharmaceutical grade starch which, I understand, constitutes over 80% of white tablets. Nigeria has abundance of maize and potato to achieve this. They should also consider organic compounds derived from hydro-carbons.
Appreciating the quantum leap by countries such as India and China, we have to study by what means they got there: What we can learn from them on what they did yesterday that brought them to where they are today? India, for example, is currently the 3rd largest supplier of raw materials in the world, coming from being a net importer 30-40 years ago. When they decided to be self-sufficient in pharmaceutical raw materials, they did not have the competitive and comparative advantages they have today. They worked for it!
Our nation must invest in acquisition of science and technology and other relevant skills. Though a pharmacist is a skilled person, there are other relevant skill sets to make a difference in our highly-competitive world. We must invest in research and development aggressively in order to be able to come out with what is required to compete effectively. We must collaborate with one another, including through mergers, to be able to build facilities that will compete globally. Examples could abound in the banking industry.
Excerpts from Mr. Peter Obi’s extempore speech entitled: Weathering the Storm of Economic Downturn: Now and Beyond, at the 2017 Annual Dinner of the Board of Fellows, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria at NICON Luxury Hotel, Abuja.