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Travel ban on India could hamper drug imports, hike prices, say pharmacists

By Chukwuma Muanya
05 May 2021   |   4:10 am
There are fears that restrictions on flights from India could lead to drug scarcity and sharp rise in the prices of pharmaceutical products because more than 70 per cent of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished drug products and vaccines are imported from India and China.

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr. Olusegun Ogboye (left); Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi; Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Sina Thorpe during the Ministry of Health Media Conference to commemorate the second year in office of Governor Sanwo-Olu administration in Lagos…yesterday. PHOTO: SUNDAY AKINLOLU

Look inwards for medicines security, says Amibor

There are fears that restrictions on flights from India could lead to drug scarcity and sharp rise in the prices of pharmaceutical products because more than 70 per cent of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished drug products and vaccines are imported from India and China.

It is also feared that another consequence that could arise from the ban is that it could lead to a surge in falsified, substandard and counterfeit medicines, as charlatans and unscrupulous businessmen operating from open drug markets spread across the country may capitalise on any scarcity created and try to fill the gap.

The Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 had issued travel advisory for passengers arriving Nigeria from Brazil, India and Turkey, which required that any person who has visited the three countries within 14 days preceding travel to Nigeria, shall be denied entry.

A public health specialist, consultant clinical pharmacist and Chairman, Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Amibor, told The Guardian that the decision to go ahead with travel restrictions could be argued to be a proactive decision by government given the extent of COVID-19 devastations in that country. So, to that extent, he said the government’s decision could be justified.

“Regarding the implication of the ban on the pharmaceutical industry, well, that remains to be seen. Nigeria, till date, imports over 70 per cent of her medicines, mainly from China and India. That also includes active pharmaceutical ingredients needed for drug manufacturing.

“Depending on the duration of the ban, there are bound to be implications for the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria. One major fall-out from the ban is that it could lead to drug scarcity and eventual sky rocketing of prices of pharmaceutical products. The consolation, however, is that Nigeria will still have access to APIs and finished products from China, our major partner that is not affected by the ban,” he said.

Amibor added: “Nevertheless, there is bound to be disruptions in the supply chain process depending on the duration of the ban like stated earlier.”

He is also worried that the ban could lead to a surge in falsified, substandard and counterfeit medicines as men operating from open drug markets could cash in.

He said this is why the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria as well as the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria have both been advocating for closure of these open drug markets for a long time, for the fact that these markets have done more harm than good to the health of the Nigerian people.”

Amibor said arising from the ban is the need for Nigeria to look inwards as far as medicines security is concerned and begin to promote local content. He said the country must intensify research into use of phyto medicines or herbal medicines as alternatives to imported products since a good number of herbs, which abound in Nigeria, are medicinal in nature.

The pharmacist said the time has come for Nigeria to demonstrate the political will to begin funding research institutes in universities and also the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRID).

Amibor further stated: “During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, I am aware that the Federal Government, through the Central Bank, of Nigeria, made some intervention funds available to pharmaceutical companies to enable them revamp their ailing industries and improve their capacity. Those companies that sought to procure pharmaceutical equipment and APIs from India may be affected by the ban, but we cannot say to what extent.

President, African Fertility Society (AFS) and Academy of Medicine Specialists (AMS), Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, said the travel ban is an excellent response from the Federal Government.

Ashiru said: “The Federal Government should be commended. What the Federal Government has done is what any responsible government should do. Canada, United States of America (USA), and some other countries have done the same. Remember that all our spread in Nigeria came from outside the country- Index case from Italy and then influx from United Kingdom (UK) and China. Luckily they are putting in place a process to ensure testing and quarantine. All to prevent a possible catastrophic situation in the country.”

To a consultant pharmacist and medical director of MeritHealthcare, Dr. Lolu Ojo, travel restrictions from India could have great impact on the Nigerian economy as Indian nationals are everywhere in commerce, manufacturing and finance.

“Most of our raw materials are from India and the ban on export will have a tremendous effect on us.

“It is going to be worst for the Pharmaceutical industry as we depend on India for finished goods and manufacturing inputs. In effect, scarcity looms and the few that will be available will become very expensive.

“Rather than lamenting the India’s export ban, we should brace up for the challenges ahead.”On how the situation will impact on the Indian community in Nigeria, Ojo, who is also a fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy (NAP), said:

“Certainly, this will be a double-edged sword. While India will be able to preserve the needed supplies during the crisis period, the Indian community in Nigeria will be adversely affected. Their business will go down and a lot of disruption will occur.”

Meanwhile, Lagos Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, has said the trigger for a third COVID-19 wave in Lagos is likely to be the importation of new COVID strains from inbound travelers. “It is important to reiterate at this point that passengers are still required to be in receipt of a negative COVID-19 PCR test at least 72hours before departure to and landing in Lagos State, book and pay for their day seven test either through the National portal nitp.ncdc.gov.ng and/or the Lagos State portal covid19.lagosstatebiobank.com. All passengers must have paid for their tests before arrival in Lagos State. Failure to do this will result in delays at the airport,” he said.

Abayomi said immediate measures to fully enforce the protocol just announced by the Federal Government will be adopted for every inbound person which include banning entry to non-Nigerian passengers who have been in Brazil, India or Turkey in the last fortnight due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus in those three nations.

He said Nigerians and permanent residents of Nigeria who have been in those countries in the last 14 days will have to undergo mandatory quarantine for a week in a government-approved facility on arrival and all passengers arriving in Nigeria will now have to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel rather than the previous 96 hours period.