Why We Are Handicapped In Producing COVID-19 Vaccine – PSN President

FIP WORLD CONGRESS OF PHARMACY – SEVILLE 2020

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), in this interview with CHIOMA UMEHA on the agenda of the Society’s forthcoming National Conference lamented the country’s challenges in producing a vaccine. Excerpts:
Why are we unable to produce vaccines but going into therapeutics?

Our country has failed to understand why it is important to make investments in healthcare. The last couple of years, it was never like this, the Nigerian government post-independence invested in healthcare.I keep saying this, as a pupil going to school one day in Port Harcourt, I sustained an injury, my uncle took me to the health centre near my school, I was treated and he dropped me at school. I subsequently went for constant dressing and was given medicine, my parents did not come, nobody asked me any question, just your name and I was treated. I did not know if pharmacies existed until after the war, but health centres and General Hospitals.That was the country, I also can remember my brother having Appendicitis, he was rushed to the hospital, my parents did not pay a dime, but he was treated. It did not matter whether we had money or not. How come we are where we are?In the sixties and seventies, Nigeria set up a vaccine laboratory plant in Yaba, Lagos; we were making the Yellow Fever vaccine. But for the last 20 or 25 years, the laboratory went kaput, and not much has happened. Recently, the government said they are doing Public Private Partnership (PPP) with a pharmaceutical company, but it is not up on stage.We abandoned investment in healthcare, vaccines are very delicate issues and you need the highest level of technology to be able to it. The point is that Nigeria does not have the technology; we have not made the right investment in anything relating to the making of vaccines. We are not even been able to resuscitate the old vaccine production we had, even if the lab was existing now it is of no use because technology has changed.This is a country facing revenue challenges, it is over-borrowing, almost going beyond its limit, there is a physical responsibility act that says that a country cannot borrow more than three percent of GDP, we are almost there if not slightly above.We have borrowed so much that our debt payment provision in the budget is almost higher than the capital budget. Such a country cannot invest much in this area.What is worse, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is funded by donor agencies, likewise vaccinations, tuberculosis, even malaria, and so on. So what are we funding? Except to pay salaries, the challenges are many, the challenges are many.The major issue is that we do not have the technology; funding and we do not even have the right leadership. The donor agencies are even getting tired, they are fatigue even the one they are giving us, they are not even sure we are using it well.
Why are we involved in therapeutics production?This is because PSN raised our voices and said, can’t we get support? Can’t we look inwards, especially when they started talking about the COVID-19 organics from Madagascar, it offended many of us that this country is too big to wait for Madagascar to produce the COVID-19 therapeutics for us. Following the pressure we put on them that made them say we should put it on a clinical trial. They sent it to National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and NIPRD said there is nothing there. And they sent it to National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and NAFDAC said that there is nothing there. I do not know who is now using it. The worse is when President Madagascar caught COVID-19 and it became a situation of ‘physician, heal thy self.’ Therapeutic is the branch of medicine concerned with the treatment of disease and the action of remedial agents. It is treatment, therapy, or drug.A therapy or medical treatment is the attempted remediation of a health problem, usually following a diagnosis. However, we have found a change in attitude now, the government has begun to fund researches, and the National Assembly is making money available for research, the Central Bank of Nigeria is making money available for research, giving grants, aids, and soft loans to researchers and institutions.That is the hope and that is why I believe we can come out with therapeutics, especially in the area of comparative advantage which is in the area of phytochemicals, herbal medicine, and traditional pharmaceutical medicines we can produce something that is useful in the management of COVID-19.I have always believed, God in his infinite mercy in every nation has created sufficiency so what we are doing is just to discover if we search, don’t seat in on place and expect people to bring things to you.
Where Are We Globally In The Development Of Pharmaceutical?

Of course, Nigeria is involved globally in COVID-19 vaccine development progression. Nigerian is in participation in the World Health Organisation (WHO) mandated COVID-19 vaccines and we want to be sure the vaccines work with us and as we succeed, we just want to test the vaccines locally.The terrible thing is that America for example has bought up all the vaccines; they paid Billions of dollars to them in advance for these vaccines. Those of us who are waiting for bonuses, and if they don’t get the bonus, we will be here.Why should this year PSN National Conference be considered as an important agenda to participants?

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It is a great opportunity for a pharmacist, as a medical scientist to be updated on current development, especially in the area of technology.We need to know how technology can help facilitate whatever we are doing, be it, manufacturer, pharmacist, etc. Without technology, we cannot compete and we will remain on the receiving end.Another one is that it is an opportunity to be updated with recent advancements and innovations, recent things have happened in the last one year. Also, many of us have also not seen our friends; at best we call them on phone and when we finally see, things look different.We have new groups in pharmacy and PSN has noticed some of these groups as interest groups so it is an opportunity for them to come out.We have also been fighting for many years for our Pharmaceutical consultancy, it’s been a long fight and finally, the Federal Government has approved it. So we need to have an opportunity to say thank you God and also tell ourselves what it takes to be a Consultant Pharmacist, it is not the name, it is by work, contribution, and impact.This has been a tough year as well so all pharmacist needs to get together and thank God for keeping us alive, all pharmacist needs it.
What should Nigerians expect in the forthcoming PSN annual conference?
The conference, OMOLUABI 2020 will be taking place in Osun state, from Monday, November 9 to Saturday 14. The conference is a great opportunity for pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists to come and be updated on current development, especially in the area of the technology revolution, to come and see how technology can help and accelerate what you are doing – be you a manufacturer, hospital pharmacist, academic pharmacist, and industry or community pharmacist.We want to expose ourselves to the possibilities of what technology can do because it is clear without technology we cannot compete, without technology we will be at the receiving end. We need to find some areas we can excel in technology and be able to compete with the rest of the world. A pharmacist who wants to grow should attend the conference. Recent advances in pharmaceutical developments, new researches, innovations, new things have happened in the last one year; it is only in OMOLUABI 2020 that you will see them. If you are pharmacists and you do not want to grow in your knowledge and competence, then do not come.If you want to understand the advancement of pharmacy and want to be current in practice, then you can come. The theme of the conference ‘Technological Revolution: Adaptation in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Pharmacy Practice, and Regulation’ would not only fill knowledge gaps, but also put life-transforming tools in the hands of the health care seeking Nigerians.The keynote address would be given by, Prof. Charles Okey Esimone, a thorough breed intellectual, a professor of Biopharmaceuticsics and pharmaceutical biotechnology.This erudite academic has pioneered research in the use of indigenous medicinal plants as immunomodulators, vaccine adjuvants and anti-infective.His vector-based antiviral screening technique developed between 2003 and 2005 in Germany has significantly revolutionalised screening for anti-HIV compounds worldwide. I wish to draw attention to the reason for his preference at this time we are racing to find the cure for Coronavirus and return to normal lives.Other quality speakers will tackle pressing topics of utmost healthcare importance and national significance. The annual conference will feature great minds in the pharmaceutical industry, practice, and regulation, towards policy evaluation and practice rejuvenation and also showcase novel research findings, innovations, pharmaceutical products, and health consumable. It is an era of accelerated technological progress laced with innovations whose rapid application will cause an abrupt change in society.The COVID-19 pandemic has reached around the globe with important consequences for business, lifestyle, and government. At a time of the most pressing need for medicines, most countries shut their doors against import-dependent countries. This caused some disruptive innovations that have come to stay and built upon.Krishna Banga, a Research Fellow at Overseas Development Institute reported 80 restrictions were placed on medical exports in the first quarter of 2020, with 40 countries banning the export of certain drugs, ingredients, or medical equipment. India banned the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients as well as formulations that are used in the making of generic drugs.For the first time, Pharmacists in the diaspora have an opportunity to connect to a PSN conference. Our conference usually achieves certain purposes.25,000 registered pharmacist in our country will have an opportunity to interact with other pharmacies whether online or physically in this conference, To share Knowledge and share of aspirations which are common among professional groups.So the conference is a big opportunity. In the conference, we will open a big exhibition. During this exhibition, new products, either pharmaceutical and medical consumables or health consumables are on display, both those done locally and those done outside the country. So it is a big opportunity to update and upgrade and get familiar with what’s happening in the world. It’s also a rich opportunity for socialising and networking. Human beings are social animals, and they need opportunities to socialise in order to meet colleagues.So it is also an opportunity to compare notes with colleagues in Diaspora, especially those from countries with robust, functional and an effective healthcare system.

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