Contributors: Daniel Onuoha
Malcolm X once said the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. A few months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the circulation of fake hypertension drugs in Cameroon. The fake drugs contained glibenclamide instead of hydrochlorothiazide. Hydrochlorothiazide is an antihypertensive drug while glibenclamide is an antidiabetic medicine. These drugs can cause some serious adverse effects if taken for the wrong reasons. This event is simply one case out of a million to a billion cases in Africa where the circulation of fake drugs by people posing to be “Chemists” has caused so much harm to people, including, death. A WHO report shows Africa alone accounts for 42% of globally detected cases of substandard and fake medical products. It is widely accepted that perpetrators of the phenomenon see Africa as a soft target because the continent has weak technical capacity and tools when compared with the West. While innovators and regulators keep creating technology and new systems to curb counterfeit medicine in Africa, out of necessity and opportunity, the problem keeps proving to be stubbornly resilient. Constrained access to affordable, safe and quality medical products, lack of good governance, weak technical capacity and tools are the biggest obstacles to overcome. The one question that is always posed to pharmaceutical companies around the world is, “Is there any plans to reach African markets and start manufacturing in those countries?” And the answer is always, “Yes we have tried but it’s impossible.” This is simply because African countries have not worked to put in place, the appropriate amenities that would attract and entice these pharmaceutical industries to open manufacturing locations in the countries. In Nigeria, no constant power supply, no water supply, bad roads, inadequate telecommunication lines, etc., has always been the main stumbling blocks to the progress of the country, and these have marred, the country’s ability to lure pharmaceutical industries to invest in Nigeria. The World Health Organization (WHO) rated Nigeria’s health sector 187th out of 191 members (3). The poor rating of the sector is due to a lack of standard equipment for production and storage of pharmaceuticals. As such, only a few of the pharmaceutical firms in Nigeria have the capacity to participate in the supply of anti-malaria, anti-TB medicines, anti-retroviral and other pharmaceuticals in international tenders (4). If the Nigerian leaders can fix these lingering problems, the country can attract the biggest pharmaceutical companies worldwide, such as Pfizer, Novartis, Biogen, Roche, etc., to invest in Nigeria and subsequently curb and prevent the problem of fake drug productions. Nigeria already has some of the smartest and most hard-working individuals in the world, including a strong labor force that would be ready from day 1 to work in these industries. Last August, a team of five teenage, Nigerian girls won a Silicon Valley prize for an app called FD Detector (Fake Drug Detector), which tackles the problem of counterfeit pharmaceutical products in Nigeria (2). Nigeria needs to create more avenues through which these bright citizens can put their knowledge and skill into practice and use it to contribute to the country’s welfare. Once there is a presence of pharmaceutical industries in Nigeria, this would help eliminate the production of fake drugs by phonies and help save lives.
Nigerian leaders owe it the Nigerian people both old and young, to fix the loopholes and improve the country’s infrastructure to make it more attractive to the biggest pharmaceutical industries in the world, both research-based and drug-production based. Having these industries in Nigeria will help make it easier for people to have access to good medicines such as diabetic, cancer, migraine, antibiotics, high blood pressure (hypertensive), and malaria drugs.
Let’s start the conversation:
Nigeria has a huge presence in the pharmaceutical world. A great number of Nigerians are scientists, engineers, and specialists in different pharmaceutical industries around the world. The Nigerian government can kick-start the conversation by engaging these Nigerian scientists in diaspora and asking for their expertise inputs as to what the country can do to attract and keep big pharma companies in the country hereby creating jobs for many Nigerian youths that have the degree and ability to work in this field and help put forward the next innovative ideas that could lead to development of new drugs to cure different diseases. As earlier stated, the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. If the Nigerian government fails to act now, the country will continue to suffer from the problem of counterfeit drugs, bright minds will continue to waste, people, including children, will continue to die from fake drugs, and Nigerians won’t have access to the next big ground-breaking drugs in the world such as gene therapy drugs that could cure SMA, Alzheimer disease, ALS, Rhett’s syndrome and other rare and life-threatening neurological genetic diseases. If the Nigerian government fixes the problems and put adequate avenues in place that could attract some of the biggest pharma industries to the country, then maybe, the country can own its future.
3. World Health Organization (2000). World report, New York
4. Lead Capital Limited (2008). Nigeria’s pharmaceutical and health care sector: a critical analysis, in Lynch, R (1997). Corporate Strategy, London: Pitman Publishing