Medicine security is a must and not an option for any serious country and the Nigerian government must begin to take steps to achieve this goal by supporting local drug manufacturing, Pharm. Ahmed Yakasai, immediate past president, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) has said.
Speaking with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview, Yakasai, who recently launched a Foundation to tackle the menace of fake drugs in the country, noted that to achieve drug security, the Nigerian nation must provide an enabling environment for sustainable local manufacturing of medicines, adding that it is in the best interest of the country and Nigerians for the government to ensure that the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector thrives.
Yakasai stated further that the federal government must also come up with policies that will boost investors’ confidence in the pharmaceutical sector and address the incessant policy summersault that discourages investors.
Government, he said, must also begin to patronise local drug drug manufacturers and pay promptly, bemoaning that many pharmaceutical businesses in Nigeria have been crippled by huge debts from some government ministries, departments and agencies.
Below is the abridged interview:
In Nigeria’s quest to tackle the menace of fake drugs, what are the things we are doing right that the nation should continue and perhaps improve on, and what are the wrong things we should stop?
If there is one thing we are doing right as a nation, it is that all stakeholders in the health sector in the country see the menace of fake medicines as a serious issue and I have seen strong commitments from various quarters to fight against this menace.
However, stakeholders need to engage the general public more, educate and inform the people about the dangers of fake medicines on the health of the people and the nation.
People must be encouraged to speak out when they have any information on fake medicines. It is also pertinent that stiff penalties are meted to the merchants of fake medicines because fake medicines is a crime against humanity. We must deter others from killing people because of greed by using those who have engaged in such act as examples.
You are a strong advocate of local pharmaceutical manufacturing which, no doubt, will also help checkmate the influx of counterfeit drugs into the country. What are the top three measures that can be taken by the Nigerian government to boost local drugs manufacturing?
The top three measures that can be taken by the Nigerian government are as follows: One, ensuring there is an enabling environment for sustainable local manufacturing of medicines. Medicines security is a must and not an option for any serious country. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the country and her people for the Nigerian government to create the enabling environment for the pharmaceutical sector to thrive through tax window, availability of forex, special pharmaceutical intervention fund and other relevant supports.
India is a good example of this. The Indian government provided the enabling environment for sustainable local manufacturing of medicines and the country has enjoyed the benefits. The federal government of Nigeria can do the same.
The second measure is having favourable policies. The federal government must think things through before coming up with policies for the pharmaceutical sector. Policies must be enablers for the pharmaceutical industry to thrive, not otherwise.
The issue of policy somersault should also be looked at. Good policy practice will boost investors’ confidence in the pharmaceutical sector and drive sustainable local manufacturing of medicines in Nigeria.
The third measure is improved government patronage. All the three tiers of government must purchase medicines from local manufacturers and pay promptly. The huge debts by some ministries, departments and agencies of the federal and state governments have crippled some pharmaceutical businesses in the country. These debts should be paid quickly, and owing of local drug manufacturers by government and its agencies should stop.
Your commitment to the fight against the menace of fake drugs no doubt influenced your decision to establish the Safe Medicine Foundation to fight the scourge in Nigeria. What are the goals you have set to achieve with this Foundation in the next five years?
In the next five years, Safe Medicines Foundation (SMF) will focus on achieving the following goals. One, raise public awareness on the harms to consumer safety caused by substandard and falsified (fake) medicines. Two, improve the collaboration between healthcare practitioners and other stakeholders in the battle against substandard and falsified (fake) medicines. Three, adopt modern technology to empower and enable African consumers to access safe medicines as patients fundamental right to safety and informed choice. Four, ensure that consumer safety prevails as the priority, by engaging with allstakeholders in an equitable manner, with a focus on the poor and vulnerable consumers in Africa. Five, advocate for policies and programmes that will improve patient safety. Six, promote rational prescribing and rational use of medicines. Seven, engage in advocacy that influences government at various level committing to purchase of quality drugs. And, eight, educate the public on the harmful outcomes of drug abuse.
Let me reiterate here that SMF will be a public health group, totally committed to the safety of all medicines and protecting consumers against substandard and falsified (fake) or otherwise unsafe medicines.
During your tenure as PSN president, you were a strong advocate of national drug security. What can Nigeria copy from countries like India that achieved drug security that can help us as a nation?
India and Pakistan became self-sufficient in medicines and started exporting across the world because of the commitment of the Indian and Pakistan governments to the growth and development of the pharmaceutical sector in particular and the health sector in general.
India has Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil) which is the authorised agency of the government specifically for promotion of pharmaceutical exports from India. It was set up in May 2004 to promote exports of various pharmaceutical products in form of bulk drugs, formulations, biotech products, Indian systems of medicines, herbal products, diagnostics, clinical research, etc. Pharmexcil takes up several external trade promotion activities by organising and sponsoring trade delegations outside India, arranging buyer-seller meetings, part payment for exhibitions outside India, international seminars, and so on.
The question here is why can’t we copy the success story of India, even if it is to start within the ECOWAS region?
The federal government of Nigeria has a huge role to play in ensuring national drug security in the country. The government has a big role to play in providing the enabling environment for sustainable local manufacturing of medicines and ensuring favourable policies for the growth of the sector, as well as ensuring good patronage of Nigeria-made medicines. These important government roles cannot be overemphasised.