By Nkechi Isaac, Abuja
It is no longer news that the global outbreak of the novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic put the world at a standstill and exposed the weakness in the world’s healthcare system bringing to the fore the need for countries to have a comprehensive system for crisis management.
Though Nigeria has been able to flatten the curve of the transmission in the country, the pandemic exposed the nation’s need to prepare for other health crisis or outbreak in the future.
During the lockdown, the Federal Government closed the borders and imposed various levels of restrictions within the country, one of which was the interstate movement restrictions to cut down cases of further contacting the disease from people who travelled from other states. However, being an import-based country, the lockdown and restrictions affected various sectors but the worst hit were the health and pharmaceutical sectors that basically import up to 90 per cent of supplies needed in running their activities.
While people who go on health tourism were cut off from getting treatment abroad, those at home were struggling to make do with the drugs available on ground to manage health of patients.
The inability to import drugs from other nations to run our health system was a development that underscored the need for Nigeria to develop its health sector, and especially the pharmaceuticals.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of the 23rd annual national conference of the National Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP) in Kano, the president of the Nigerian Association of Pharmacists and Pharmaceutical Scientists in the Americas (NAPPSA), Dr Anthony Ikeme called on government to develop and execute a blueprint for the economic development of the pharmaceutical industry.
Ikeme, who delivered his keynote address on ‘Advancing industrial pharmacy sector in a volatile economy’ virtually from the United States, said a long overdue blueprint has become more pressing now following the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, which has further exposed the inherent weaknesses in the nation’s healthcare system.
He added that Nigeria loses over $600 million on importation of pharmaceutical products from countries like China and India.
“The Nigerian pharma market is a market for foreign products with almost total dependence on imports from China and India worth an estimated $600 million (about N276 billion) yearly,” he said.
He contended the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the grave danger globally, including for Nigeria, of overreliance on China for most medical and pharmaceutical supplies, emphasizing such reliance “exposes the country to grave security risks and vulnerabilities, weakens the ability to develop the pharmaceutical sector, and constitute a huge drain on foreign reserves.
“Perhaps our greatest failure is in the lack of an actively executed National Strategy for Nigeria’s Pharmaceutical Economic Sector Development. Nigeria must come up with a deliberate and actively executed national strategy for pharmaceutical economic sector development. Nothing less will do,” he stated.
The NAPPSA president explained that such bold step is needed now to ensure the country develops a robust and globally competitive pharmaceutical sector that can take advantage of the coronavirus-induced global supply deficiencies. “We must robustly and efficiently deploy all facets of our national human resource asset and machinery towards achieving our national pharmaceutical sector strategy,” he added.
Ikeme assured of the support of NAPPSA and other Nigerian diaspora groups for the actualization of such strategy in the form of direct investment, skill and knowledge transfer through trainings and mentorship and facilitation of institutional and organizational relationships between their institutions in diaspora and local pharmaceutical companies.
Earlier, the national chairman of NAIP, Pharm Ignatius Anukwu, said this year’s conference “seeks to consolidate the gains made in its advocacy for the establishment of pharmaceutical manufacturing parks” as NAIP strives to engender an enduring and virile pharmaceutical industry.
In his remarks, the president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, commended NAIP for its central role, over the years, in the pursuit of the industry’s cardinal objectives of improving local content, “improving local value addition to take us away from a country almost completely dependent on essential medicines and healthcare supplies to a country that has a reasonable level of self-sufficiency.”