Gabriel Dike, Lagos

A concerned group, Greater Health Initiative (GHI), has made a passionate appeal to the Federal Government not to heed the call by some lobbyists to ban the importation of essential drugs.

GHI Coordinator Mr Achike Chude said drug manufacturing companies in the country produce less than 20 per cent of Nigeria’s drug needs

Chude, who stated this in Lagos on the drug crisis in Nigeria and the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country, disclosed that about 20 per cent of unmet medicaments in the country are imported from abroad.

“There is a rumour making the rounds that some very essential and critical drugs ranging from antibiotics and pain killers are about to be banned from being imported into the country, ostensibly to make way for manufacturing that will never see the light of day,” Chude said.

“This position of government and CBN, it would appear, stems from a capacity audit that was done for certain companies prior to the funding decision. We maintain that the capacity survey that was conducted was not carried out by NAFDAC.

“It was given to NAFDAC and they have not carried out a true capacity audit for proper verification. No pharmaceutical manufacturing companies were named in the list only figures were mentioned. The fraud is aimed at creating a monopoly to hike the cost of drugs to enrich a few and kill the people.”

He explained that the consequences of NAFDAC action are the astronomical rise in the prices of essential drugs such as anti-malaria drugs and anti-biotics, stating “the tragedy of it all is that fake drugs are now littered in many pharmacists and chemist shops in Nigeria as genuine drugs are hardly available at affordable prices.”

Chude further explained that there were about 100 drug manufacturing companies in the country, adding about 25 per cent of them had to shut down operations owing to harsh economic conditions while the remaining ones are producing below capacity.

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“Nigerians are still reeling under the weight of the high cost of essential drugs in the market due to the 20 per cent duty on imported drugs sometimes ago. If other neighbouring African countries are operating a zero tax regime plus lower port charges on imported drugs, why should Nigeria operate at a 20 per cent tax regime that has rendered essential drugs inaccessible to the public?”

Chude condemned foreign medical tourism by our political leaders to access better healthcare in order countries.

“Unfortunately, the coronavirus has played a very fast cruel joke on our leaders and has forced them to remain with us to confront a common challenge.

“Government is completely ill-prepared to handle the rampaging COVID-19. Top government officials mentioned as having the virus would have to be transported to Lagos and their medical history requested from aboard.”

The coordinator of the group stressed that the lobbyists are advocating for banning drugs used by diabetes patients, with over 60 million Nigerians affected, and drugs for high blood pressure, with 45 million Nigerians suffering from the ailment.

The Executive Director, Child Health Organisation (CHO), Lady Vicky Uremma, said NAFDAC policy on drugs should have a human face and that COVID-19 as is affecting the politicians and top government officials, necessitating the need to improve the health sector for all Nigerians.

The Coordinator of Concerned Mothers Association (CMA), Mr Oscar Mbanefo, faulted the NAFDAC directive that all imported drugs must land in Lagos and also kicked against the move to ban the importation of essential drugs.

A legal practitioner, Mr Sonny Ekwowusi, condemned those lobbying government to stop the importation of essential drugs and appealed to the administration to provide essential drugs at affordable prices.