Africa’s dearth of competent visionary leaders is to blame for the continent’s inability to produce drugs locally along with the poor state of the region’s medical system which has further enhanced her heavy dependence on imported drugs from the western world to treat sicknesses ravaging it.
This is despite the region being the hotbed for the three big killer diseases namely: malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
This is the submission of pharmaceutical and medical experts who spoke to Information Nigeria regarding the several challenges drug manufacturers in Africa, particularly in Nigeria are faced with regarding the production of drugs locally, as well as getting their drugs approved by the Nigeria Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
A World Health Organisation report in 2015, revealed that approximately 1.6 million Africans died of these three major killer diseases which are preventable with timely access to affordable drugs and adequate health services. However, the continent produces less than 2 percent of the medicines it consumes which are contributing factors to the staggering figure.
The global health regulatory body also added that globally, Africa accounts for 50 percent of child deaths below the age of five, resulting from pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
The World Bank also reported in 2013 that about 80 percent of Africans, mostly those in the middle-income bracket and below, depend on public heath facilities that are already inadequate or have drugs unavailable for curable diseases, most of which end up in avoidable deaths.
Sharing his thought with Information Nigeria, President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Maazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa attributed the development in the continent to the unavailability of strategic, enlightened, competent visionary leadership.
Mr Ohuabunwa pointed out that had there been leaders with such qualities available in Nigeria, the over 60 years of the country’s independence would have been enough time to correct those anomalies caused by the impact of colonialization, as the nation would have been better than it is presently, hence the continent’s reduced capacity to compete with the rest of the world.
The PSN president also attributed the root cause of the sad development to the effects of colonial rule which had eroded Africans’ beliefs in her local and traditional herbs.
Ohuabunwa said: “Africa is suffering from the effect of many years of colonial rule when we became dependent on our colonial masters to supply our needs. We were not allowed to develop our indigenous drugs because Africans had traditional medicine that God had shown them that they were using to treat diseases before the white men came to say everything in Africa was evil, black, wrong, uncivilised and dangerous. They convinced us, trained us, took us to their schools, changed our mindset and thinking. So, we agreed with them that everything in Africa is evil, bad, devilish, satanic, heathen, diabolic, etc.”
Giving other reasons, the PSN boss further stated, “Haven started to manufacture locally, we have to import their machinery, equipment and pay in foreign exchange, that is, their own currency and we don’t have enough of it.”
He noted that, “Even when we are going to borrow at a very high interest rate and depreciating exchange rate, we also find that cost of production is high, influenced by exchange rate, inflation which also affects most economies in Africa. When you have high inflation and high depreciation, it raises cost of production. You also have to add high cost brought by infrastructural deficit, whereby we have to generate most of our power, sometimes build our roads, provide our security and so on, all these raise cost as well.”
“We operate in a world where goods are supposed to move in freely from nation to nation without any barrier. Due to that, human beings became rational and prefer to buy cheaper goods from outside. With the free trade, drugs come all over the world from China, India, Europe, America, especially those coming from Asia are cheaper than the one we make locally. So, the natural thing is that Nigerian consumers will rather buy those ones than buy yours.
“Even if they want to be patriotic, the high level of poverty in the country and low purchasing power won’t make them able to express that patriotism to buy made in Nigeria goods. So, even if their heart is telling them to patronize Neimeth, Emzor, Fidson, their pockets will be saying no, you cannot patronize these ones, patronize made in China, India, because that is what they can afford to pay.
“Furthermore, Africa has low level or culture of research and development, so we have to depend again on the Western world to do the research. As you can see the COVID-19 vaccine is coming from them, so the big companies, the Pfizer, Moderna, Astrazeneca and so on are smiling to the bank. Thank God for COVAX,” he noted.
Immediate Past President of Nigeria Medical Association, Prof. Francis Adedayo Faduyile of the Department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine, LASUTH Ikeja in his own submission to Information Nigeria, emphasized the PSN boss’ views, but added that other factors such as unaffordable and unstable power, poor quality of available raw material and equipment, if any, unqualified expertise due to poor and epileptic education system occasioned by incessant strikes, underfunding of science labouratories and technological based studies meant for training of those qualified to conduct practicals as well as poor economic and political stability coupled with insecurity, generally in Africa which drives away investors.
Responding to claims by some local manufacturers that the NAFDAC refused to approve their drugs despite meeting standard requirement provided by it, Prof. Faduyile explained that the requirement of getting approval for a drug is much greater than just the manufacturer having the facilities to produce them.
The former NMA boss noted that “for you to get your drugs approved is a painstaking process and NAFDAC will not look at the difficulties you have been encountering. For example, some of the drugs you need approval for may need to have a buffered water but for one reason or the other, you don’t have buffered water and you use any type of water, the regulatory agency will not approve it.
“You still won’t get approval even if you have the equipment which were imported at very great cost, but you don’t have a way of maintaining them. All these will militate against having the approval done easily.
“Even the regulatory bodies, do they have the necessary equipment to certify some drugs? Is their equipment functional and up to date? If they are not up to date and they need to do that, it might take them six months to do so. Also, do the regulatory bodies have enough personeel? All these are what makes regulation sometimes to be pronounced,” he pointed out.
Prof. Faduyile however implored drug consumers to note that local or traditional herbs with NAFDAC number on its label is not a confirmation of its efficacy but just a confirmation of its safe consumption.
In his words, “We must know one thing, many of the NAFDAC approvals are not to confirm efficacy, they are usually to guide against toxicology, that is, is it toxic? is it harmful? For example, most bottled waters have NAFDAC number but they are not for medicinal purpose. Therefore, that a product has NAFDAC number doesn’t mean that it is working. What I’m saying is that NAFDAC will look at it and say this is fit for consumption but does not say that it is fit for the treatment. So, we must know the difference.”