Brain-drain: Pharmaceutical Stakeholders fear risks of medicine crisis in west Africa

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…as migration of professionals skyrockets

…126 pharmacists inducted into WAPCP

By Moses Adeniyi

Stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry have lamented West Africa risks medicine crisis, if prompt actions were not taken to avert the increasing problems of brain-drain in the pharmaceutical industry in the region.

This is just as no less than 126 newly trained pharmacists were on Tuesday inducted into the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (WAPCP).

The stakeholders lamented that such problems as increasing migration of professionals to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, among others, and heavy reliance on importation and donation of medicines, as well as supply distribution gaps, were critical issues putting the region at a risk of medicine crisis.

Stakeholders who expressed fear at the opening ceremony of the 34th West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (WAPCP) Annual General Meeting and Scientific Symposium, held in Lagos on Tuesday, agreed the situation demand urgent attention and collaborative efforts among the professionals and the government.

In his keynote address, the Managing Director, SKG Pharma Ltd, Dr. Okey Akpa, mentioned that the 381 million population in West Africa were at a risk of medicine crisis, mentioning that the effects of same are those that transcend national violence.

Lamenting that only about 30 percent of medicines consumed in West Africa were produced in the region, he said the region is exposed to the risk of medicine crisis with increasing migration of pharmaceutical professionals out of the region.

Lamenting the desertion of the industry with increasing migration, he described as “unsustainable the records of brain-drain.”

“We don’t have the manpower. The industry I emphasize must collaborate; we must bridge the gap.

“The number of Pharmacists we have lost by way of immigration in the last six months is unsustainable. They are heading to Canada, America and Europe. The question is how do we stop them?,” he queried.

According to him, medicine security similar to food security, was central to national security, maintaining that no good health can be recorded without good policies to ensure that medicines are effective, safe, affordable, sustainable and predictable to meet the criteria of securing health.

He averred that though it was difficult for every country to achieve self sufficiency in all drugs, it was quite essential every region must strive to achieve self sufficiency in essential medicines.

He said the concept of medicine security reflects that when donation and importation overshadows local production, the inimical impacts pose risks of medicine insecurity.

In his submission, he identified political will and commitment of the government, as a central key to develop local production and address the myriad of challenges in the pharmaceutical industry.

Citing India, Brazil, China, Malaysia Indonesia, and Bangladesh as examples, he said their status of medicine sufficiency were being driven by political will.

Other submissions he sued for, include access to market; developing consumption power which is rich in demand; enhancing regulations; attaining Maturity Level III for regulatory agencies to regulate medicines.

Also, were continuous work to improve medicine distribution system; actions to support research development, bridge gap between research institutions and the industry; addressing brain-drain, robust policy framework; and government incentives.

In her remarks, the Chairman of the Occasion, who is Chairman of Access Bank, Dr. Ajoritsedere Awosika, said the theme of the Symposium “Medicine Security in the West African Region: Matters Arising,” was apt.

Awosika questioned why Nigeria should fret over medicine insecurity if a Country as the U.S. bigger than Nigeria can achieve medicine security.

She said it was essential for pharmacists and all relevant stakeholders to work together towards the necessity to achieve medicine security in the West African region.

In his remarks, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, represented by the Chairman, Health Service Commission, Lagos State, Dr. Atinuke Onanuga, said collective efforts were important to get a grand picture of the security of medicine in West Africa.

He said the theme was apt given threats of medicine crisis in the region, which according to him, demands bridging existing gaps.

He said research was critical for inventions in local medicine development, calling on all stakeholders to join hands together to propel development in the pharmaceutical industry.

Lamenting that Europe and America are now harnessing the capacities of Nigerian-trained medical professionals, he assured the State Government was interested in partnering with interested researchers to boost inventions in the industry.

The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire represented by the Director, Food and Drugs Services Department of the Ministry, Mrs. Olubunmi Aribeane, said it was time to reverse the region overdependence on importation of medicines, largely coming from India and China.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that unless the nation is able to develop from agriculture and distribute its own medicine, we cannot achieved medicine security,” he said.

He said it was important for health colleges to develop capacity through curriculum courses towards ensuring pharmacists are equipped for “local production of active pharmaceutical ingredients.”

The President, WAPCP, Prof. (Mrs.) Cecilia Igwilo, lamented what she described as the strains of “huge dependence on drug importation” informing “problems of substandard and falsified medicines” in the sub region.

According to her, the theme of the symposium was carefully selected as it captures “all we need to foster the unparalleled cooperation between the pharmaceutical industries, regulatory bodies, drug distributors and the end users.”

She lamented that “the West African region is fast becoming a dumping ground for all manners of Pharmaceutical products.”

According to her, “drug importation has sorrowfully gifted the region with problems of substandard and falsified medicines.”

The Chairman, WACPC, Nigerian Chapter, Dr. Margaret Obono, said the circumstances of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic threatened and worsened shortfalls in the supply of medication to African Countries.

The President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Prof. Cyril Usifoh, observed that the population of the region “are too exposed as a people,” with heavy reliance on drug importation.

“Importing over 70percent of our pharmaceutical and medical devices is certainly a big risk to the citizenry.

“Posterity would hold us accountable if we do not at this time come up with practical solutions,” he averred.

“We must grow our pharmaceutical industry for some self-sufficiency across every node of the value chain from the university to the community practice, that is from Research and Development, to manufacturing, effective distribution (logistics), through the organised distributor to retail pharmacies to the patients,” he said.