Chaotic Drug Distribution Requires Urgent Attention And Strong Political Will – Pharm. Ernest Okafor

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Worried by the perennial problem of open drug markets which have continued to thrive in the country due to high patronage from the citizenry, the Chairman, Pharmaceutical Wholesalers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (PWDAN), Pharm. Ernest Okafor, has called for urgent steps to be taken in addressing the issue, describing it as one of the major challenges confronting drug distribution efforts in the country.

Speaking with Pharmanews in a recent interview, Okafor also attributed the continued existence of the illegal markets to a lack of political will on the part of the government, saying not much has changed over the years, despite best practices required by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The PWDAN chairman, who is also the managing director Nemitt Pharmaceuticals, however noted that the association had been doing its best to transform drug wholesaling and distribution in the country, stressing that it is no longer business as usual in the sector.

Below is the full interview:

What necessitated the establishment of PWDAN?

We discovered that, for several years, we had been talking about chaotic drug distribution, where some non-professionals handle the bulk of drug distribution in pharmacies in Nigeria and the attendant challenges. So, we professionals that are into distribution, decided to come together to change the narrative, trying to showcase the best practices and ensure that things are done normally.

What would you say are the challenges peculiar to the wholesale distribution pharmacy business in Nigeria?

The major challenge is the circulation of fake, adulterated and unwholesome medicines, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated is on the high end in Nigeria and different governments have tried to tame it to no avail. Products that are meant to be stored under a reduced temperature are being stored under a high temperature, while products that are supposed to be refrigerated under a cold chain are being stored in a shop without temperature control, in variance to what the manufacturers specified.

Also, the products are not being distributed in an ambient condition. You will see some products being displayed in the open market or being hawked in the market, including biological products, under the sun. And you would discover that many a time, the label claim for that product in terms of efficacy is not being achieved.

Moreover, the pharma distribution system doesn’t contribute anything to the GDP of the country because there’s no analytics to pinpoint the turnover in that space.

There is a belief that the open drug market keeps thriving because there are some bigwigs behind it, do you also share this belief?

Yes, it’s a cartel. It’s a cartel in the sense that even some of them are big sponsors of some politicians and it didn’t start today. So, we discovered that it will be very difficult, unless government introduces some stern policies, we cannot surmount it. Some of them are sponsors and supporters of some state governors; so, unfortunately, it may remain with us.

Are you saying that we have to continue living with it?

I don’t mean it that way; it can be solved if we have a government that has the political will because it is the political will on the part of the government that is needed. The laws are there, but what we lack is the enforcement of those laws and having a raise in standard.

We all saw the menace of motorcycle riders in Lagos. It took the government of the day the political will to come up with a timeline and enforce it, and the result is here for us to see. The same can be achieved as far as the open drug market is concerned.

What do you think the Nigerian government can do to help sanitise the drug distribution system?

The government has the agencies they have set out to police and regulate that sector, which are the PCN and NAFDAC. So, whatever the government is going to do, it has to go through these agencies. Although they are trying on their own, there is still much more to be done. They need to build capacity and infrastructure in order to achieve the desired result. The laws are there; it is left for them to be implemented. So with the robust strategies and ideas that they have, they need personnel and infrastructure to deliver optimally.

Unfortunately, NAFDAC is now a revenue-generating agency for the government. Rather than using the taxpayers’ money to regulate the system, they are turning the people they are supposed to regulate into money-making machines. So, in this case, we may not achieve much.

If you were to advise the administration of President Buhari on measures or policies that can help improve healthcare in Nigeria, what would be your advice?

My advice has to be holistic. When you are building a house and you want to add more structures on top, you have to look at the foundation. I would say the pharma sector in Nigeria started on a faulty foundation and that needs to be holistically addressed.

You would discover that the history of Pharmacy in the country and other parts of Africa started with a third party, where non-professionals were the ones that introduced western pharmacy before the coming of the organised professionals. So dislodging that old system has been the problem.

However, the government on its own has not built capacity in having self-sufficiency in manufacturing, as everything is still being imported. Even the little we are manufacturing in the country, the raw materials are still being imported. Without the petrochemical, the pharmaceutical manufacturers can’t grow. So the government should start from there as there are no petrochemical industries to rely on.

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