The outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has reinforced the prime place of health care in human affairs and has also propelled the pharmaceutical industry to its rightful place as the international community seeks a permanent cure for the killer disease.
With several deaths across the world on account of the pandemic and the associated socio-economic disruptions, the virus has opened new vistas for the global pharmaceutical industry where big pharma are reaffirming their reputation as reliable partners in healthcare delivery.
According to reports, biopharmaceutical companies that are involved in the race to develop treatments for COVID-19 are seeing significant changes to their share prices. Between January 20 and February 25, 2020, some of them saw their share prices surge by around 800 per cent and 300 per cent.
As the trend gains momentum, Nigeria, with her large number of pharmacists, is missing from the list of countries benefiting from the COVID-19 vaccine trade. This, indeed, is worrisome!
Recently, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Prof. Charles Igwe, charged the Nigeria Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA) to produce a made-in-Nigeria vaccine for coronavirus. He was reported to have said that the nation could not afford to be waiting for imported vaccines to address the home challenges caused by the virus. He, therefore, mandated members of NAPA to intensify laboratory research to find an efficacious means of tackling the virus in the country.
The call by the Vice Chancellor is not the first time Nigerian scientists have been challenged to produce a local remedy for the disease that is, even with the available vaccines, on the rampage changing forms and strains. What, in our opinion, is remarkable about the admonition to the pharmacists in the academia is that it is coming from one of their own. It invariably puts pressure on Nigerian pharmacists to expedite work on researches being undertaken by some of them towards producing a Nigerian-made vaccine, and if possible, a permanent cure for the disease.
The pharmaceutical industry, this newspaper observes, is a multibillion-dollar industry with the capacity to create millions of jobs along the production and supply value chain. It is in recognition of this that the Central Bank of Nigeria ((CBN) as part of its COVID -19 interventions, made a special provision for the sector. We are aware of the N100 billion pharmaceutical intervention fund for COVID-19 that the apex bank disbursed to pharmaceutical companies in the country, as part of proactive measures to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the economy. That commitment to research and development is also part of the effort to reduce the nation’s dependence of foreign sources for vaccines needed not just for COVID-19 but other ailments that require vaccines as part of the therapy.
Stakeholders in the health sector have attested to the fact that most local pharmaceutical industries, with the help of the fund, have added a boost to their production capacities to manufacture facemasks, personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitisers, gloves, antiviral drugs, ventilators, medical supplies and vaccines and other COVID-19 allied safety measures.
It is widely assumed that a Nigerian-made vaccine or a permanent cure for the disease will open up a new window for increased forex receipt for the country and will shore up the nation’s foreign reserve just as it will raise the bar of scientific research in the country and the acclaim that brings to the scientists.
In addition, several allied businesses will be created around the production centres; from the supply of raw materials, preservation, warehousing, banking, insurance and a whole value chain will benefit from such a discovery.
Recently, the chairman, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), Dr Fidelis Ayabae, was quoted as saying that every company that met the requirements got the facility. He affirmed that his members are happy with the CBN for the initiative and the way it was implemented and called on members who are yet to access it to do so without further delay.
Following on this position of the manufacturers, we are persuaded to inquire why not much work has been done in terms of making available home-made vaccine for the virus. With that volume of financial support, it is surprising that Nigeria still has to rely on foreign sources for the vaccine needed to effectively checkmate the deadly virus.
This newspaper also recalls a recent government policy statement that by end of year, vaccination will be compulsory for all public servants. It will be sad, in our view, if the federal government will still have to rely on imports or foreign donors for the vaccines needed to fully actualise that laudable decision. It must also be noted that the government is under obligation to provide vaccines for other members of the society who need the jab. And that means that it looks up to Nigerian pharmacists for assistance in terms of producing local vaccines that are internationally acceptable. Since they have admitted that funds are not part of the problem, the nation will hold them accountable if they fail to live up to expectation.