In this exclusive interview with our reporter, Adebayo Oladejo, the recently appointed chairman of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), Pharm. Okey Akpa, speaks on the challenges facing pharmaceutical manufacturers in the country and his plans for the group. Excerpts:
What prompted your decision to serve as PMG-MAN chairman?
My decision to serve the group is coming from the point of view that everyone of us wants to contribute his or her own quota to create a better industry and, by extension, a better healthcare system for Nigerians.So it is simply to serve and contribute my quota to the development of the industry and nothing beyond that.
You are succeeding a chairman that has been extoled as an achiever. What are your plans to further take the association to higher level?
PMG-MAN has been blessed with very good leaders from inception.The immediate past chairman, Chief Bunmi Olaopa, was one of them, and before him were Mr Joe Odumodu, Mr Emma Ebere, Dr (Mrs) Stella Okoli and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa.So you can see that it is a very strong leadership team that we have had and my intention, by the special grace of God, is to continue with the good work of these people over the years and obviously to execute projects which will take the industry to the next level.
Already a lot of good things are happening the World Health Organisation pre-qualification and others.So this leadership team,of which, by God’s grace, I am the chairman will endeavour to consolidate on all the great achievements of our past leaders and also look at new opportunities in the Industry for positioning the industry at the global level and creating a vibrant pharmaceutical sector.Those are the things that occupy our minds at the moment and making PMG-MAN an organisation that is well respected within government circle, the healthcare circle, within Africa and internationally.
A major challenge facing pharmaceutical manufacturing in Nigeria is the problem of fake drugs. How can this challenge be tackled?
Fake drug, as a phenomenon, is a global challenge and not only localised to Nigeria – though it occurs in all the countries at different proportions. Besides, if you look at it closely, you would realise that a lot has happened by way of improvement, because there was a time in Nigeria that made-in-Nigeria drugs were seen to be predominantly fake. This is no more so, and that shows that something good is happening.
In this regard, I will like to recognise the efforts of NAFDAC. Other professional bodies have also contributed and, of course, the manufacturers as well are eager to produce quality medicines.So there is an avalanche of quality medicines in the country that people can access and afford.This is important because, in the absence of quality medicines that are made in Nigeria, fake drugs will become a lot more available because people cannot do without using medicine.So,one of the ways that PMG-MAN is trying to contribute is to make sure that quality made-in-Nigeria pharmaceutical products are available, accessible and affordable.That, on its own, is a major pillar of fighting against fake drugs, as it makes fake drug business less attractive.So, we are winning the war.
You talked about affordability of drugs in the country.It is generally believed that drugs are more expensive in Nigeria, what can you say about this?
That’s people’s perception because the word “expensive” is relative. But when several factors are considered, you will discover that it’s just mere perception.
As one of the stakeholders in the pharmaceutical profession, what grey areas do you think the stakeholders at the November PSN conference should specifically address?
If you look at the theme of the conference, “Transforming Pharmacy Practice for Better Outcomes”, which centres on focusing on how to improve the practice of Pharmacy, you will see that the theme is apt and one must give the president of the PSN and other organisers kudos for packaging the conference in this way.
If you follow the programme for the conference, there is going to be a lot of sessions to discuss how to improve the practice of Pharmacy and there is going to be lots of brainstorming sessions and panel discussions. I think it’s the right thing to do because Pharmacy is a profession that takes care of people; so it must continue to evolve and find relevance in meeting the needs of people.
So, how would you assess the contribution of conferences to the development of the profession?
Sincerely, conferences are very important as they bring all pharmacists in the country together.Considering the fact that Pharmacy has different dimensions of practice – the industry, community practice, pharmacists in academia, the hospital pharmacists, the researchers, and even pharmaceutical journalism – conferences bring all the professionals together and we share ideas and review all that is happening around us.And it has been so far so good.
It has been discovered that over 70 per cent of our drugs are imported.How do you think government can improve local manufacturing of drugs in the country?
One of the key points of the National Drug Policy of the country is an objective to produce 70 per cent of the drugs to be used in the country locally, and it is the desire of PMG-MAN that government should help Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturers to achieve this or even surpass it.
One of the means of supporting them is for government agencies and parastatals to patronise Nigerian manufacturers and pharmaceutical products., Secondly,the industry needs appropriate protection because many of the drugs we are using in Nigeria are imported, which should not to be so because we have the capacity to produce most of these products locally. So,government must develop the political will to do the right thing and discourage the importation of items that we can manufacture locally.That, on its own, is a very strong way to encourage local manufacturing
Also,we must look at the general infrastructure which affects not only pharmaceutical but every manufacturing effort in Nigeria. The more government improves the infrastructural base, the better.Look at what is happening with electricity.
Funding is another challenge.It is the wish of Nigerian manufacturers that government looks at making funds for development of pharmaceutical manufacturing available to the industry.Of course, we are not asking for free money but money that can be accessed at a competitive rate and that will make investment in the industry to be possible. As soon as these things are put in place, the industry will grow better.
What is your view about current happenings in the health sector?
The provision of health to any society is a team effort, and the health sector should be more of teamwork. Any disharmony is against the principle of teamwork and it is my desire and prayer that all the different stakeholders in the sector will realise this and come together and work as team.