Environment is not conducive to local production of medicines, vaccines
Why are we having problem producing vaccines locally?
You know very well we have never planned for any endeavour in national life. This is not designed to indict anybody, but in the quest for progress, we must begin to say it the way it is. Health planning is probably non-existent in our shores. I am sure you are familiar with some of my cliché and sobriquets, such as “only the view of one professor is reckoned with in health planning” or in another dimension, “a need arises to open the borders of restriction in healthcare.”
In apocalyptic terms, it is not local vaccine production alone that is a problem in Nigeria. Drug production at micro level and the totality of manufacturing endeavours as a macrocosm is laden with severe barriers. Manufacturing is certainly not an attractive venture around here with the decadence in basic infrastructure, power, water and roads, among others.
The private sector, as epitomised by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMGMAN) in particular and with the assistance of Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (PCN), National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), as well as Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) championed World Health Organisation (WHO) endorsement of production plants in Nigeria. At the last count, about four to five companies, including May & Baker, CHI Pharmaceuticals, Swipha and Evans have been designated as having WHO compliant facilities.
For us as a sensitive sector, this is where it ends, because donor agencies are not likely to patronise diesel-powered facilities, when they carry out mass procurement of medicines. Even the Federal Government, states and local governments do not patronise local pharmaceutical companies. In the few instances they do, they owe them money for years, thus ruining their business.
I have given the above background and scenarios to enable you see reasons why investments on local drug production might continue to be a mirage.
I know of a particular drug manufacturing plant in Ota, where promoters have sunk very close to N5b and tragically, there is little or no commensurate patronage since it came on board.
Coming to your question, therefore, the environment is not conducive to local production of medicines and vaccines. For as long as we do not reform these deficiencies, sensible investors might continue to avoid local production of medicines and vaccines.
One would have thought research systems in our tertiary institution would help make local vaccine production attainable…
Poor funding only hamstrings the research and development culture. We cannot continue to be subsumed in spectacles of pusillanimity because government has conventionally treated our clamour for funding of research endeavour as pontification of some itinerant quacks or critics at best.
Most faculties of pharmacy have Drug Research and Production Units, such as the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife or Centre for Drug Discovery, Development and Production like we have at the University of Ibadan. This is aside the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), which is a Federal Government driven research centre for pharmaceuticals.
In terms of funding that accrues to these faculties and research institutes, NIPRD does not enjoy a total of N20m per annum in terms of government subvention. For God’s sake, what will that type of amount do in terms of research and development?
The fate of the faculties is even worse in terms of funding. Each time I see what the Drug Research and Production Units at OAU, Ife has become, I feel sad. It is simply deplorable. Our problem is that successive administrations have never or do not appear willing to pay premium on a functional and impactful health system. For the record, it was at the Drug Research and Production Units in Ife under the late Prof. Abayomi Sofowora that discovered the anti-sickling agent Fagara. NIPRD consolidated the gain, but it is still far from enough.
What is needed to begin production of vaccines?
Production of medicines is no child’s play. For vaccines and biological products, the financial implications are higher. Fortunately, the human resource is available because of a diverse range of specialist and research pharmacists, healthcare providers, as well as other experimental scientists in our country.
Funding remains a major issue. I will again advocate the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) models. The Federal Government had one with May & Baker Plc. in the past. If it is not possible to resuscitate this old relationship, we must facilitate newer ones that are sustainable.