Essential drugs scarcity

Nigerians resign to fate, waiting for day to die –Adagadzu, PSN chairman

…Urges President Tinubu to declare national drug emergency

By Cosmas Omegoh

 

Chairman, Board of Fellows (BOF), Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Dr Joel Adagadzu, has urged President Bola Tinubu to immediately declare a national emergency on drugs in the face of increasing difficulties Nigerians face in accessing quality drugs. 

Dr Adagadzu who spoke on the sideline of the Fellows’ Mid-Year-Meeting in Awka, Anambra State, on June 24, insisted among other things that drug security is a component of national security.

Are you concerned that many Nigerians can longer afford drugs?    

Oh yes, we are hugely concerned that the citizenry can no long have access to affordable drugs. That is not just important, to us, but critical. We are not talking about every medicine, but quality medicines. That is a huge concern to us. That is why the theme of this year’s  lecture in Awka Anambra State is “Access to quality medicine in an unstable environment,” with former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi as our guest speaker. Our attention is focused on medicine security. That is very critical. All of us are feeling the brunt – all of us – all Nigerians. We are looking at the government to correct all the anomalies we are raising. We want the government to note that after food, access to medicine is next. That is why this is important to us. As custodians of medicines, we are raising concerns that this lack of access to quality drugs is of concern to everyone of us. It must be! That is why indeed, the government and members of the press must join hands to find solutions to easy access to quality drugs. It is true that it is within our domain as pharmacists to do this, but we must note that we all are affected. And this should not be the exclusive of those in politics either.

What’s responsible for the challenge?

There are multiple factors responsible for the current challenge. First, we have to note that everything is so difficult now in this country; we don’t have the infrastructure; and so if an investor comes here, he has to provide his own infrastructure, including water, electricity and even roads. He has to invest his money in things ordinarily the government should be responsible for. He does not have access to facilities in terms of tax rebate, lower import duties. He is confronted with all manner of taxes. Everyone in Nigerian now believes that they can make money from investors through heavy taxation. That is why they are being heavily taxed. That is not the right way to encourage effective production of essential needs such as drugs. In this contest, if you want to produce in Nigeria, you go through hell. But we must note that there is nobody who will spend that kind of money and wouldn’t want to make profit. That way, everything goes up.

Right now, inflation is on a steady rise. Now, we shouldn’t forget that we don’t produce in Nigeria; we import virtually everything. Whether they are finished or raw materials, you pay heavily, and that is not easy. You also have to go and get foreign exchange to import medicines; access to foreign exchange these days has become traumatic. It is not an easy thing for any drug importer. And when you get it, you see how strong the dollar has become against the naira. So, how do you expect people to get these products and come here to sell at give-away prices? That is not possible. It is because of that, that access to medicines has gone beyond the scope of most Nigerians. I personally find it difficult to buy my own drugs. Drugs I was buying for N7,000 before now have gone up to N50,000. How many people can actually afford that now?  

How is the problem impacting Nigerians?

Now, the majority of Nigerians no longer have access to quality drugs. So, they resort to all kinds of things when they are sick just to survive. Some of them simply resigned to their fate waiting for a day to die. Some  suffer and suffer and resort to buying native and herbal products and things like that. Although some of the herbal products might be effective, but we are not sure they are well produced and registered because they are not yet at the point where we can say we are sure of what we have. That is why some persons besiege those people selling all sorts of medicines with loud speakers by the road side. They are the people who supply them with medicines. But to be honest with you, we cannot rely on most of those herbal products. Yes, we cannot dismiss all of them, but we cannot all together say that they are harmless. So, we have to be very careful. Someone will tell you that a certain herbal product is effective; that it cures almost everything. But if you are sensible, you should know that there is no medicine that can cure everything. All this happens because people are unable to access quality medicines because of cost. So, they are looking for alternatives. To me, those alternatives may not be the right alternatives. Besides, even if the people are getting manufactured orthodox medicines, the cheap ones are most likely going to be the fake ones or substandard ones. Either ways, we are exposing our citizens to danger! Last year, during our mid-year meeting, I actually expressed delight that the government was rolling out plans to support the pharmaceutical industry because of the news that filtered out from the Presidency. We also noticed that over the past months, the government and the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) had been working together to find solutions to this problem. That will be helpful. Now, concerning the emergency nature of the state of our industry, any action that is delayed in finding urgent solution to this critical challenge is not going to help us to get out of the woods. Therefore, we hope and pray that solutions out of our public lecture will support the government in addressing the current challenges. The country cannot be importing 100 per cent of its active pharmaceutical raw materials and be paying all kinds of taxes and customs tariffs, operating under very debilitating challenges and still produce medicines that are affordable. It is not possible! 

 Do you see bigger crisis to follow?

If the people and government of this country do not begin to discuss this matter, and agree on how to salvage the situation, then there is trouble. It means that we don’t have a future. We must note that a time might come when the people we buy drugs from might not have medicines in their own countries to solve their own health problems let alone to give to us. Time might come when there will be crisis in those countries; we might not be able to import from them, not even the raw materials we need to produce our medicines locally even when we have the capacity to produce our own raw materials and finished products to help ourselves.  So, why do we have to rely heavily on others? And so, the best way now is for Nigerians to look for the right ways to help ourselves. Were we not on the same level with India, China some years back? What has actually happened to our country? Why are we where we are at the moment – and even deteriorating further? What is the problem with the leadership? If, for instance, the government is serious about insecurity, kidnapping, banditry and  puts its feet down, the matter can be resolved within two weeks. If the government says we want to start producing our own drugs – not even vaccines – after all, during COVID-19, vaccines were produced within eight months that can be done if the government has set goals. But what that means is that the government has to make commitment and back up such commitment.

Should we then call an emergency on drugs?

I support an emergency declaration on drugs in this country 100 per cent. This is because medicine security is a critical component of national security – it is very, very important!

What next would you say to people and the  government?

I call on our amiable President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to take quick actions based on his convictions in order to save the pharmaceutical industry without further delay. Earlier, we proposed that a national dialogue on national drug manufacturing should be summoned by the government. We also proposed that a dialogue between the government and the PSN should be made regular. These are still very necessary.  In addition, I will urge the government to arise and handle critical matters such as access to drugs with the seriousness it deserves. It should be handled with dispatch. It should not spend too much time on that. It should not be subjected to unnecessary bureaucracy because people are dying. If they in government want to govern a Nigeria people are happy to be living in, they should do something fast. Otherwise, there might not be any Nigeria for them to govern.

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