In the wake of a proposed ban on importation of specified classes of drugs into Nigeria, National President of the Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria (APIN), Chief Nnamdi Obi insists that activities of a few criminals who engage in the importation of fake drugs should not override the fact that majority of genuine and affordable drugs in Nigeria come from either China or India.
In this interview with Sola Ogundipe, Obi disagrees with the viewÂ that importation of drugs from India and China should be banned while only made in Nigeria drugs should be preferred. Excerpts:
Do your import from India and China
As President of the Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria,Â I can authoritatively tell you that our members do not import fake drugs. And I can also tell you that there is no basis for comparison between the qualities of drugs produced in India and China and that of Nigeria.
The condition given to companies in China and India for their drugs to be imported into Nigeria is that they must be certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO). There are 16,000 drug manufacturing companies in India and over 1,000 of them are WHO-certified.
But in Nigeria, we have about 200 drug manufacturing companies and not one of them is WHO-certified. Apart from being WHO-certified, drugs imported into Nigeria from these countries are also subjected to extra scrutiny by independent analysts appointed by NAFDAC and answerable only to NAFDAC.
Why are Nigerian companies not WHO-certified?
We all know that Nigeria is yet to industrialise for obvious reasonsâ€”lack of electricity, lack of funding for manufacturing purposes from banks and other financial institutions, policy somersaults on the part of the Nigerian government, among many other disincentives to investors.
You and I know that these things are taken for granted in these countries. When you run your factory on generator 24 hours to be able to roll out your products, you will understand that your prices cannot be the same with those of another manufacturer who does not need to buy a generator at all, because there is electricity 24 hours to power his plants. So, cheaper prices are a function of the manufacturing environment and not about quality.
Are you saying there are no fake and substandard drugs from India and China in Nigeria?
We are not sayingÂ there are no bad eggs in these countries, just like we have them here in large numbers, but that is why we have NAFDAC to stop the criminals and they are doing well so far with other security agencies. ButÂ government should take action at the highest level. Sometime ago, the Chinese government executed the head of Chinaâ€™s Food and Dugs Authority for using his office to aid illegal transaction in drugs.
Only recently, the same Chinese government also executed five persons convicted for their involvement in production and marketing of baby milk contaminated with melamine. These are actions that indicate zero tolerance to the activities of fake drugs producers and marketers.
Will importation of drugs not continue to undermineÂ the local manufacturing of essential drugs in Nigeria?
I concede to the fact that local industries should be encouraged to produce certain pharmaceutical products for local consumption. That is the ardent wish and desire of any right-thinking person because as a nation, we cannot progress if we have to import anything that could be produced locally. However, we must appreciate the fact that pharmaceutical products are very sensitive items and any decision on the health sector generally must be done with utmost caution.
In this instance, government in 2005 banned some pharmaceutical products. Among all the pharmaceutical products that were banned, it is only paracetamol that can be locally produced to a level that could be said to be self-sufficient.
What is APINâ€™s position on this development?
The counter-argument of APIN is this: let us do a proper appraisal and establish a scientific basis for decision-making.Â We are saying that government, in its wisdom should take cognisance of the fact that pharmaceutical products are not products that should be banned because of somebodyâ€™s employment, as the emphasis has always been on employment.
The lives of 140 million Nigerians would be adversely affected by the policy decision. So, whatever decision being considered should be done with utmost caution.Â We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our entire nation to cry out when certain decisions are being taken that we consider inimical to the collective interest of all Nigerians.
Do we have the requisite manpower to produce drugs in Nigeria?
As far as I know, yes. But do we have the infrastructure? No. In the absence of infrastructure, what do we do? Let it be very clear. That a company has come up with the idea that it is going to install machinery that can produce a million tablets in one day is its installed capacity.
But installed capacity is not the same thing as production capacity because there a lot of things to consider.
As faras I know, the only raw material that is found here in Nigeria is water. All others are imported. So, at the end of the day, due to the assets used to support the industry, the products are bound to be expensive.
So what should government do?
Review the laws affecting counterfeiting of drugs.
As far as we are concerned, the laws are not stringent enough to deter people. When somebody is fined N50,000 for importation of fake drugs, that in itself is an incentive to commit more crime.
It ought to be imprisonment without option of fine, so that the person knows that if he is caught, the proceeds will be spent by someone else.