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Dokun-Babalola: Government should encourage research into novel pharmaceutical products

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze
28 June 2020   |   4:11 am
At the moment, there is runaway inflation on medical supplies, and it is becoming more difficult to run clinics.

The health sector is also not spared from the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic, as the prices of essential and prescription drugs have gone high and are beyond the reach of the common man. The President, Guild of Medical Directors, Prof Femi Dokun-Babalola told NKECHI ONYEDIKA-UGOEZE that the solution to the problem should be long-term, and lies in government encouraging research and ensuring that the country’s pharmaceutical industries get involved in drug production.

How are medical directors/doctors coping in the face of the rising cost of essential and prescription drugs, due to the Coronavirus pandemic?
At the moment, there is runaway inflation on medical supplies, and it is becoming more difficult to run clinics. Doctors do the best they can to shield patients from the price hike, even though this reduces profitability and adversely affects the bottom-line of clinics. But we swore an oath that the patient will be our first consideration. We hope government does something quickly to rein in runaway inflation, and defend the currency.

In addition, we cannot import supplies, unless we have what they call “inflow.” But how does a clinic in Wuse get inflow, when they don’t have businesses abroad? Clinics should be exempted from these restrictions!

The National Drug Policy, revised in 2005, prescribed 70 percent local production of drugs and 30 per cent import. But the reverse is the case, as Nigeria imports 70 percent of its drugs, while 90 percent of raw materials for pharmaceuticals are also imported.

It is a very challenging environment. Many doctors are getting infected with COVID-19, and some have paid the ultimate price. Every day, we see patients or operate on them, we are risking infection. While government has made attempts to compensate or protect doctors in the public sector, those of us in the private sector are left to our own devices, our protestation notwithstanding. 

How can this be reversed? Is there need for government’s intervention?
This reversal will take political will. Government cannot be content with paying lip service to the concept. Nigeria is capable of achieving independence in pharmaceuticals, particularly with regards to the generic products. We also have infrastructural challenges, especially with regards to electricity supply, which remains epileptic.

Government also needs to support research. It is easier for the camel to go through the eye of the needle than to get funding for research in Nigeria today. Research must be encouraged into the development of novel pharmaceutical products. We must just not be the beneficiaries of other people’s efforts, but be net contributors to development of novel molecules. If these things are sorted out, I am sure the sky is the limit, when it comes to pharmaceutical production.

Do you support the idea of integrating traditional medicine into the country’s health service delivery and the idea of setting up Traditional Medicine Wards in our hospitals to coexist with orthodox medicine wards? 
It will be difficult to integrate traditional medicine and Western medicine in the same facility. Separate facilities can be built for traditional medicine practitioners. The problem with traditional medicine is lack of standardisation, of qualifications and the products themselves. Anybody who knows one or two medicinal leaves can just wake up and call himself a traditional doctor!

We need to protect our people from charlatans. So, standards in training and qualifications should be established. Standards in therapeutics also need to be established. Safety of products needs to be affirmed. A meeting point of tradition and Western is in the development of pohytomedicinal products. 

Is the rising cost of drugs not endangering healthcare delivery? Won’t this lead to avoidable deaths that will later be attributed to COVID-19?
Inflation is affecting all aspects of the economy. The sudden decline in oil prices has led to a sharp fall in government revenue and the value of the Naira. Our dependence on oil needs to cease. 

How do you think government will tackle this challenge?
Government should encourage research. Let us ask questions and let our scientists seek answers. Our people also need to heed warnings from health experts. It is wrong to ease lockdown, when incidences of the pandemic are rising. But our religious leaders have placed too much pressure on government and people are putting commerce ahead of well-being. I hope we do not live to regret this wanton carelessness.

What advice to the public, especially those that cannot afford the expensive drugs, and are likely to turn to unorthodox alternatives
Patients should avoid unorthodox medicine. While it has some advantages, in that it is usually cheaper, the dosage is not well calculated, and some are toxic to the kidney and liver. They should be taken with caution.