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NIROPHARM seeks FG’s firm stand on zero tariff for essential medicines



Vice President, Association of Nigerian Representatives of Overseas Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (NIROPHARM) and Managing Director (MD), Biofem Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited, Femi Soremekun (left); the President and MD, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited, Lekan Asuni and Secretary and Commercial Director, (Nigeria & Ghana), Pfizer Specialties Limited, Olayinka Subair at the media briefing

The Association of Nigerian Representatives of Overseas Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (NIROPHARM) has called on the Federal Government to ignore the call by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMGMAN) for an import adjustment of tax of 20 percent on imported finished pharmaceutical products of HS Code 3003 and HS Code 3004.

HS Code 3003 and 3004 include medicines that are used to treat some chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, heart and kidney diseases among others.

The group at a press conference in Lagos last week called on government to stand firm in upholding the Economic Committee of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Common External Tariff (CET) that stipulates zero per cent for these products across the region, while at the same time, ensuring that raw materials, excipients (substance combined with a drug) and packaging for local production are accorded same tariff.

They have also come out with a redefined and new approach that will ensure the effective implementation of the New Drugs Distribution Guideline (NDDG) and an acceptable framework that will meet the needs and address the concerns of the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory stakeholders.

Speaking at the event, the President of the association and Managing Director, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited, Lekan Asuni, said that this would affirm them as committed to improving the wellbeing and wellness of citizens and a demonstration of due regards to international commitments to the CET of which the country is a signatory to.

Pointing out the high prevalent rate of these ailments in the country, which statistics from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimated to be at 10.4 per cent in 2012, he stated that the drugs required for their management and treatment are not produced locally and needs to be imported.

Asuni stressed that removal of taxes on them means that patients that require them will expend less on them, adding that this would be a welcome relief in this economically challenging time.

Acknowledging however, the developmental impact of government support to local manufacturing on the economy, he stated that the PGMAN’s ‘unsubstantiated’ position that “additional taxes on these imported pharmaceutical products would be passed on to the patients”, should be deemed invalid as there are more benefits accruable to the wider Nigerian pharmaceutical industry and the citizens most importantly if the CET tariff is retained, supported and sustained.

The GSK boss however asserted that imposition of tax on the products would hinder equitable access to essential medicines and would consequently also amount to the breaching of the fundamental human rights of the citizens on their right of access to healthcare as is enshrined in international treaties recognized by governments all over the world.

According to him, “the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) acknowledges the critical importance of improving access to medicines.

For instance, the MGD Target 8E states inter alia: ‘in cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, to provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries’. Improved access to medicines is also a prerequisite to the achievement of some of the goals- MDG 4: reducing child mortality, MDG 5: improving maternal health, and MDG 6: combating Human Immune Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), malaria and other diseases.”

Continuing, he said: “It has been established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that approximately over 70 per cent of doctors’ consultations result in drugs prescription.

Drugs also account for approximately over 75 per cent of overall healthcare expenditure in developing countries, which are lesser in most developed economies (9.3 per cent in United States of America and five per cent in the United Kingdom). “Hence, improving access to essential medicines is therefore fundamental in tackling ill-health.

For instance, it is pertinent to reduce infant and maternal mortality rate, which are still high in Nigeria.” Asuni further revealed that over 70 per cent of the essential medicines that are required in the country are imported.

Making reference to insulin and vaccine, he disclosed that these life-saving drugs are all imported as no local manufacturer has the requisite technology to manufacture them.

He stated that upholding of the CET would make these drugs available and affordable; arguing that anything short of it would take them out of the reach of the ordinary people who already are impoverished.

He added that it would also affect the economy, as it would encourage cross-border smuggling from neighbouring countries with cheaper products, adulterated and fake products and restricting opportunities for Nigerian manufacturers to supply their products to these neighbouring Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries.

He finally urged the Federal government not to give in to what he referred to as “blackmail and anti-people policies that will lead to higher prices of medicine and put the health of Nigerians in jeopardy and encourage medical tourism.”

Meanwhile, the association has come up with what it referred to as “a redefined and new approach” to the National Drug Distribution Guideline (NDDG) as was recently announced by the Federal Ministry of Health, saying that it will ensure the effective implementation of the New Drugs Distribution Guideline (NDDG) and an acceptable framework that will meet the needs and address the concerns of the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory stakeholders.

Pointing out some of the gaps and limitations of the guideline as were listed by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), which among others, they stated does not meet all stakeholders needs and requirements and is not aligned to current pharmaceutical industry realities, and has no implementation plan/framework in place that will serve as a roadmap to effective and efficient actualization, NIROPHARM stated that pharmaceutical distribution in the country should be headed towards a society, system and industry with access and citizens’ wellbeing, pharmaceutical industry and drugs’ distribution that is well articulated and efficient, and regulatory environment that is well-organised as their key components.

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