A former national chairman of the Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria, Dr. Lolu Ojo, says the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problems facing the pharmaceutical sector, noting that the industry suffered more than 30 per cent loss of revenue in the outgoing year 2020.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an interview, Dr. Ojo, who is also the managing director of Merit Healthcare Limited, noted that contrary to the erroneous belief of some people, the pharmaceutical industry did not enjoy any boost in business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In reality, while the pharmaceutical industry did not suffer much depression as experienced in the hospitality sector, it did not enjoy any boost that some people erroneously attributed to it.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem that we were grappling with on the economy.
“Nigeria has entered a second recession in three years and it will be foolhardy to rely on the projection that we will exit recession in quarter one of 2021.
“The pharmaceutical industry witnessed nothing less than 30 percent drop in revenue this year and is still grappling with the scarcity of foreign exchange.
“It has been a tough year for the operators in the industry,” he said.
Ojo, however, noted that the pandemic has had some positive impacts on the pharmaceutical industry.
“There is now a new normal in the way we do business and there are some positive swings heralded by the pandemic.
“We can now reach our target audience in the hospitals and pharmacies without much physical contact.
“We can also hold our sales meetings and training without asking everybody to come to the headquarters,” he said.
Ojo, who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy Committee on Drug and Substance Abuse, however, stressed that one of the most important lessons Nigeria must learn from dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to strengthen local capacity for drug manufacturing.
The pandemic, he said, has shown that depending on other nations for a huge percentage of medicines and other healthcare products for citizens is not only unwise but dangerous.
“As a nation, we must develop the capacity to produce our medicines need locally.
“The pandemic has exposed our vulnerability as a country and we must act now to ensure we have medicine security for our huge population of over 200 million people,” Ojo said.
According to a study by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, the key challenges confronting Nigeria’s pharmaceutical market include counterfeit medicines, poor healthcare infrastructure and the limited spending power of citizens.
The UNIDO study, published in 2011, noted that Nigeria’s pharmaceutical market was estimated to be worth $600m in 2009 and was expected to grow substantially at around 12 per cent year-on-year to reach $717m by 2011.
The report, however, noted that despite government efforts to promote manufacturing, “Nigeria remains heavily reliant on imported pharmaceuticals.”
The UNIDO study stated that capacity utilisation within the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector is about 40 percent, adding that there is a large volume of underutilised manufacturing capacity which could be applied to produce new products upon demand.
While noting that Nigeria has the potential to establish itself as the leading manufacturer and distributor of essential medicines in sub-Saharan Africa, the study says “poor infrastructure (power, water, transportation) increases the cost of medicine manufacture and distribution while also hampering growth.”
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