Low patronage by government and other infrastructure deficits have been adduced as some of the reasons drug manufacturers in Nigeria are unable to meet the drug needs of the people.
Managing Director of indigenous pharmaceutical company, Tyonex Nigeria Limited, Mr. Emmanuel Agba, who said this in an interview in his Lagos office notes that government’s preference to patronise imported drugs has caused the country not to reaped the maximum benefits of the local pharmaceutical manufacturing industry to the detriment of local manufacturers. "Currently, about 75 percent of all drugs consumed in Nigeria are imported. This is not to say that the local manufacturers do not have the capacity to satisfy the drug needs of Nigerians, but they have not receive the full encouragement they desire to meet such challenges from the government," Agba said.
Meanwhile Agba has said that Nigeria could only be projected as a marketable brand to the international community if the active components of what makes the country are enhanced. These active components, according to Agba, are enshrined in the human resources of the country for which pharmaceuticals play a very crucial role. "The brand, Nigeria, which is what the current minister for Information and Communication is canvassing support for, could only be projected in the anticipated measure by projecting the people, which is an active component the brand," Agba said.
"The pharmaceutical manufacturing sector is one area that affects all sectors and very important for any country like Nigeria that produce oil," he added.
The many challenges of drug manufacturing in Nigeria
One reality is that all raw materials used in drug making in Nigeria are imported. This is partly because Nigeria lacks a functional petrochemical industry where petroleum bi-products could be converted to raw materials for drugs manufacturing. A tax of five percent is charged on all Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) imported into Nigeria. This, according to Agba, should be revised and possibly removed as a way of encouraging the local manufacturers to increase their level of investment in the country. "The process of converting petroleum bi-products to raw materials for drug production is very expensive and for most drug making companies. The only way out would have been for the government to actually patronise them through some of the programmes," Agba said.
He also pointed out that this has been made worse by the influence of donor agencies who always have pre-selected foreign companies they use to execute programmes meant for Nigerians despite the ability of local manufacturers to meet their ability.
"The foreign donor agencies may have done very well to institute programmes and projects that helps in alleviating some of Nigeria’s pressing health challenges, but the other side of it shows that they have not done enough to benefit the local companies," he said, adding, "What do you think of a situation whereby companies are pre-selected by the agencies to handle programmes that companies in Nigeria have capacities to do." He pointed out that Nigeria contributes to some of the funds that are brought in to help Nigerians; hence the local drug manufacturers should be factored into the implementation plans for the programmes.
He said, "Section 6.9 and subsection 8 of the National drug policy of Nigeria mandates the government to patronise local drug producers as a way of encouraging them. But this is not seen. Countries like India and china have become big names in pharmaceuticals because of the huge support their governments gave the industry." According to Agba, over 80 percent of drugs sold in Nigeria are bought by the government, buttressing claims that the government is the highest patroniser of drugs in Nigeria.
He also noted that poor power supply and high tax burden are among other factors that have crippled the manufacturing sector in Nigeria. The pharmaceutical sector, he said, is most affected. "There is nothing like tax holiday for the pharmaceutical manufacturers in Nigeria. I see no reason why the five percent charged on API cannot be removed," he said.
He also called for local content specification for the pharmaceutical industry, as is the standard in the oil industry.
Are Nigerian companies capable?
Agba has refused to share in the argument that Nigerian drug makers may lack the requisite expertise and technologies to handle some of the projects funded by the government and foreign donors. He said, "If most of the drug manufacturing companies in Nigeria are certified to be producing standard products under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) as certified by the various regulatory agencies, then it means they can comfortably cater for the specific needs of whatever programme involving drug."
According to him, Nigeria has started on a sound note, but could only move to the next level of drug manufacturing business if the government employs an aggressive support drive for the industry. Agba also noted that the ban on some essential drugs by the last administration brought out the best in Nigerian companies, showing that the local producers could always respond positively to the challenge of meeting the country’s drug need.
He has also hailed the resolve by the new leadership of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to accommodate zero tolerance for food drug faking and adulteration in Nigeria.
Tyonex is an indigenous drug-manufacturing outlet with head office in Lagos. Its sister organisation, Divine Essential Formulation, is the manufacturing arm of the organisation which currently markets over 40 products including antimalarials, antigungal, antidiabetic, antibiotics, blood capsules among others.
Agba revealed during the interview that plans are underway to extend the company’s range of services to other West African countries.