Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye is the director-general, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). In this interview, she highlights the interventions to keep local pharmaceutical companies afloat and relevant during the COVID-19 lockdown.
From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
What are the interventions from NAFDAC to help keep local pharmaceutical companies afloat and relevant this period?
We are doing our best but our major problem is an old import policy which predated NAFDAC. That policy permitted every dick, tom and harry to import all manner of drugs and consumables into Nigeria. These importers are completely businessmen and women who know little or nothing about pharmaceuticals. While some choose to get themselves attached to a local pharmaceutical company to operate, others float on their own, perhaps, leveraging on their contacts and financial strength. We have not been able to change that but we are making serious progress in that regard. We are particularly worried that most of the drugs they import are anti-malaria, anti-biotics and other drugs that are manufactured by local pharmaceutical companies. It’s a worrisome situation that has been happening for decades but we would correct it soon.
With what measures or policy?
We have developed and begun the implementation of a policy called 5+5. Highlight of the policy is that we won’t renew license for any drug importer after first five years until he or she provide us with concrete and realistic proofs of his or her migration plans down to local production or patronage. In that way, our local pharmaceutical companies and production would be strengthened to respond to the health needs of our people. These local companies have the capacity to feed the market, create employment and wealth for our people but their efforts are crippled by these drug importers. In addition to that, they face huge challenges particularly tax and other charges, and that had greatly affected their production and survival in the highly competitive market.
What is the production capacity of these local pharmaceutical companies?
Regrettably, it’s 40 per cent for now. The other 60 per cent is not being utilized simply because of the archaic policy that allowed people to import all manner of drugs into Nigeria. But that would be corrected very soon with the measures we introduced. Remember, Nigeria is a consuming nation. The only thing we produce in Nigeria is water, and that is a thing of worry for us. We have drugs insecurity in Nigeria. I have said it repeatedly at different fora that 70 percent of drugs in Nigeria are imported. With the COVID-19 pandemic, China, India and other countries that supply drugs to Nigeria have come down under the weight of coronavirus and we are at the receiving end.
But global lockdown is a great opportunity for local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to prove their worth.
Yes! You are right and we are have been helping them do that. We have been meeting with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group (PMG), an arm of the Manufacturers of Association of Nigeria (MAN), to offer support and incentives to these local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. We have also requested and involved the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment to assist in securing tax holidays and other incentives that would help them close the wide gap created by the global lockdown as regards pharmaceutical supplies. Also, we requested that content of the drug importation prohibition list should be expanded to accommodate drugs like anti-malaria, anti-biotics and other products that are manufactured in Nigeria.
What commitment have you made to support them achieve that?
You must know that NAFDAC is seriously worried about the situation of drugs in Nigeria and that’s why we are doing everything possible to ensure that we empower local pharmaceutical companies. It’s for our own good. Just look at the global situation now, COVID-19 has crippled socioeconomic activities in the world. UK, US, Germany and other developed countries of the world with sophisticated health systems have fallen to COVID-19. China, India and some other countries who are our major suppliers of active and non-active ingredients for pharmaceutical products have also been brought down by COVID-19. We will employ appropriate legal means to secure the end to that archaic policy that allows every Tom, Dick and Harry to import drugs into Nigeria, not to talk of bringing drugs like anti-malaria, anti-biotics and other drugs that we produced in Nigeria. We are optimistic that our new policy, 5+5, will also go a long way in helping us achieve that. But in the immediate, we have secured the intervention of CBN, Federal Ministry of Trade and Investments, for grant break, tax holidays and help facilitate the importation of raw materials for pharmaceutical companies in this period of global lockdown.
Recently, you directed a local pharmaceutical company to produce a batch of chloroquine for emergency treatment against COVID-19. What’s the update?
Yes, we gave approval for a local pharmaceutical company, May and Baker (M&B) to produce a batch of chloroquine for emergency treatment against COVID-19 because they have done marvelously well in that regard in the past before we discontinued the use of the drug for treatment against malaria. They have done that and we are monitoring the situation. However, the clinical trials is ongoing.
How were they able to get the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients?
The Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) is the part of any drug that produces the intended effects. Some drugs, such as combination therapies, have multiple active ingredients to treat different symptoms or act in different ways. I was initially concerned that they would not get the API because it’s long that we discontinued the use of chloroquine for treatment against malaria. So I was glad when they informed me that they got it but at high cost and that is understandable. From what I was told, they got it at 6 to 10 times higher than what they used to get it. Reason was that the APIs were no more available within because it’s being long that we stopped the use of chloroquine for treatment against malaria.
With the increased campaign for use of hand sanitizers, many products have flood the markets including substandard ones. Have u up your post-marketing games?
Undoubtedly, there’s high demand for hand-sanitizers now due to the dreaded coronavirus pandemic and the advisory by relevant health officials for regular use of hand sanitizers to keep the virus away. Expectedly, many people have taken advantage of the situation particularly in Lagos and environs to produce unregistered products. We have alerted our offices at the states and zonal levels. We are yet to get reports of unregistered hand sanitizers in markets otherside Lagos or the south west. However, it may interest you to know that, recently, our post-marketing team moved round Lagos for that purpose. Interestingly, we found out that six out of seven hand-sanitizers in Lagos market were unregistered. We have taken measures to punish those involved. We have registered producers of hand sanitizer and their certified products. We have also made it easier for new entrants into the market by reducing the approval days from 120 to 10 days. We encourage them to come in, register their products and abide by the rules of engagement.
You may be aware or otherwise, many pharmaceutical outlets in Abuja and beyond are running of stocks because of the lockdown. Will make a formal request to the presidential taskforce on COVID-19 to allow pharmaceutical companies distribute their products beyond Lagos where their factories are located?
It’s an important point that you have raised. We have a COVID-19 situation room at the Federal Ministry of Health where meet and discuss these issues. However, I will escalate it further maybe through the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, to the presidential taskforce to secure a special waiver for these companies to distribute their drugs. Besides, pharmaceutical outlets are opened because they are not affected by the lockdown. They are open, attending to the health needs of patients. The implication is that, if they run out of stock, it will provide opportunities for fake products to take over the market and their would be increase in self medication.
What lessons have we learned from these COVID-19 pandemic vis-a-vis our health system?
Great lessons. In fact, COVID-19 has opened up the rot in our pharmaceutical system and our health care system in general. Obviously, we had neglected the health care over the years. I am glad with the response so far and I pray that it will awaken the giant in us, particularly our local pharmaceutical companies, who have all it takes to provide safe and quality drugs to Nigerians.