Pharmacist Azubuike Okwor, a former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) is a distinguished Pharmacist of repute. In this interview with FLORENCE UDOH, he spoke about the future of the Pharmaceutical society in Nigeria, wealth creation, his personal life and other issues.
Can we meet you Sir?
I am Pharmacist Azubuike Okwor, I had my secondary school education at Christ High School, Abor, Enugu and my university education at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu. I studied Pharmacy because even as a child, I was very fascinated about drugs.
All my life, I looked forward to becoming a pharmacist. I am very passionate about the growth and progress of the Pharmaceutical industry in this great nation, Nigeria.
Sir, how do you relax, what are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading a lot, I read a lot of motivatinal books, management books, Pharmacy related books and christian books. One of my greatest vocations is reaching out to the less priviledged children in the society and I do that in the catholic society. I belong to the Catholic Church whose main focus is reaching out to the poor with food stuffs, cash, clothes and other items.
I also give back to the society by going back, every year, to my secondary school to impact knowledge on the growing teenagers as a visiting scholar. I help out in many other ways towards the upliftment of my alma mater, Christ High School, Enugu.
How do you relate with your family?
I am happily married to Ifeoma Okwor and we are blessed with 3 children, Chivuzo, Neechi, Chison and from time to time, we create time to relax and refresh together in our own unique way as a loving united family. I believe very much that a happy family is the bedrock of a successful society
What is the state of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria today?
The Pharmaceutical Industry is a very important sector in any nation's economy, especially because of its capacity to ensure the health of the citizens and its contribution in wealth creation and reduction of poverty.
The development of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria has gone through a challenging evolution from the traditional infusion from a cocktail of leaves, roots and barks to small scale manufacture of tablets, syrup and recently sterile products. The industry has also done well given the environment that they have had to contend with in the last decade.
What is the industry's contribution to the GDP, yearly?
The Nigerian manufacturing sector (including pharmaceuticals) is relatively small as reflected in its current contribution to the GDP which is below 5 percent. A recent survey by the Federal Ministry of Health highlighted major threats to the pharmaceutical sector including but not limited to, low capacity utilisation, poverty and related lack of purchasing power, high production cost, counterfeit and fake drugs, and failure of government to play the stewardship role.
The implication is our failure to take advantage of the opportunities created by the high demand for drugs used to treat the new pandemics of HIV&AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria across the developing world. In spite of the identified weaknesses, the industry has grown at an average annual rate of 10 percent over the last five years.
How about capacity utilisation in the industry?
The capacity utilisation for the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria is about 40 per cent and there is capacity for production of certain types of drugs to meet national needs for essential drug and for export.
This explains why government has placed a ban on the importation of certain categories of drugs where we have enough capacity and expertise and also as a measure to protect local industries. The local industry even at these installed capacity can only meet 25 per cent of local needs, most of the manufacturers produce liquid preparation tablets, capsules, ointments, lotion cream, ophthalmic preparation.
The remaining 75 per cent which constitute the critical drug need represents the gaps products from other countries are filling. The good news is that we have crude oil which can provide the primary base for a new phase in our drug manufacturing initiative when harnessed.
What is your take on the N200 billion Pharmaceutical Development Fund?
We appreciate the 200 billion naira fund for the pharmaceutical development and hope this will be followed with policies that will seek to encourage manufacturing. The fund which is to be offered to manufacturers as a revolving loan at a reasonable interest rate will, no doubt, assist in boosting local capacity utilization and assist some companies to meet the requirement for World Health Organisation (WHO) pre qualification.
Another point that we need to quickly appreciate is that Nigeria is yet at the most rudimentary stage of our drugs manufacturing initiatives. Nigeria is but only a spectator in the 41 billion naira global biotechnology industry. This should prompt government to quickly recognise the role of research and development as an important driver in the growth of the local pharmaceutical industry.
As a former President of PSN, What can you say PSN has been doing to eradicate quacks in the industry?
The level of quackery in Nigeria calls for a concerted effort by stakeholders and government to draw out a plan to tackle the menace. At PSN, we constantly remind government and the regulatory authorities of the apparent danger that Nigerians are exposed to as a consequence of counterfeiting.
PSN also interacts with regulatory agencies giving and receiving information about the status of drugs used in healthcare. The Society also issues alerts through our anti Counterfeiting Task Force, which educates practitioners and the public on the quality of drugs in circulation. The golden rule to the general public is to ensure that they source all their drug needs through registered pharmaceutical premises which are the only legal outlets for sourcing drugs.
What is the way forward for the industry in 2013?
Our vision for the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector remains the attainment of self sufficiency in the supply of quality, safe and affordable drugs to Nigerian and exploiting the potential markets and opportunities that the ECOWAS region represents.
We are aware that as we speak of local manufacturing of drug, a greater percentage of the active ingredients for the local initiatives are all imported, and this is why we call for the creation of a pharmaceutical commission to drive Nigeria's journey toward local manufacturing of pharmaceuticals replicating the giant strides that China and India has made in these areas.