Having access to adequate healthcare is a major challenge in Nigeria as nearly two-thirds of the populace lives below the poverty line. Jonathan Eze examines the feat of FIDSON Pharmaceutical in bridging the gap with affordable and quality drugs
The need for increased capacity in local drug production has been well recognised and it cannot be overemphasised. Such capacity should cover the production of raw materials and intermediate products, not just formulation and packaging.
Hence, indigenous companies like Fidson Pharmaceuticals, which despite the economic downturn continue to expand its production capacity and base should be encouraged not only with local patronage but with favourable government policies and waivers that will spur them into doing more in order to sustain economic growth recorded in the last few months that took the country out of recession.
Also, in line with the numerous executive orders aimed at making doing businesses easier, there is a need to enforce the National Drug Policy that makes it mandatory that government at all levels must give priority to locally manufactured drugs during procurement planning and tender pre-qualifications.
It will also not be out of place if the government can immediately put on prohibition list of all drugs that the local manufacturers have adequately and in sufficient capacity to meet national need. Stakeholders believe that if these recommendations are religiously implemented, indigenous companies would be encouraged.
This brings to fore the leadership being demonstrated by Fidson especially with regards to increasing its capacity. Despite the fact that drug production facilities in the country are currently operating under severe constraints, the company has succeeded in translating the challenges to strength.
The company has recorded many firsts over the years including being the first company in Nigeria to manufacture its own brand of anti-retrovirals called Virex in 2005. This drug was 100 per cent formulated and manufactured in Nigeria and it successfully reduced the cost of anti-retrovirals to the public by about 70 per cent.
It was also the first company in Nigeria to manufacture Proton Pump Inhibitors in 2002, with their Meprasil brand, in the treatment of gastro-ulcer conditions.
The new plant in Sango-Ota, Ogun State, is increasing the company's manufacturing capacity in line with its growth trajectory. The plant incorporates manufacturing regular pharmaceutical products, whose demand is expected to exceed supply, with intravenous (IV) infusions and injectables. The demand for IV infusions is large and Fidson's penetration into the IV infusions market has no doubt broken the oligopoly as well as reduce prices and increase quality of the products bought by consumers.
The plant doubles its existing production capacities, thereby enabling the company to achieve economies of scale and reduce prices; and imminent WHO GMP compliance will open doors for contract manufacturing for multinationals, who wish to enter the Nigerian market without having to establish a manufacturing plant.
These new opportunities have taken Fidson to a higher level of manufacturing, where they are collaborating with some of the biggest companies in the world in terms of pharmaceutical knowledge, formulation, processes and the best standards in global pharmaceutical manufacturing.
The new plant also positions it to take advantage of the changing government regulations that aim to increase locally manufactured medicines to about 70 per cent (from current 40 per cent) of total medicines consumed in Nigeria.
Hence, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, on an industry tour recently reaffirmed the federal government's support to local pharmaceutical manufacturers in Nigeria while calling for public-private partnership between government and major industry players.
The minister who was received by the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Fidelis Ayebae and the management team, later proceeded to the factory where he was conducted round the new state-of-the-art facility, its production lines and equipment, after which he expressed his amazement at the efforts of the indigenous company towards transforming the country's pharmaceutical landscape.
He commended Fidson Healthcare Plc for its contribution to the growth of the pharmaceutical industry and economy at large, particularly with its huge capacity for local manufacturing of pharmaceutical products from the company's newly constructed multi-billion naira facility.
Enelamah noted that he is impressed with what the company has on ground and optimistic that Fidson is on the right path. He also emphasised the need for public-private partnership between government and major industry players like Fidson and restated government's support towards improving the healthcare sector.
While sharing Fidson's milestone with the minister, Ayebae stated that the plant, which boasts of an unmatched capacity for drug production, is equipped with different production lines, such as Tablets, Capsules, Liquids, Creams, Ointments, Dry Powder and Infusion. He stressed that the factory has the capacity to meet the healthcare demand of the Nigerian and West African markets. He also commended the minister and the federal government for their commitment to the growth of the sector.
Responding to the minister's question on how the issue of fake drugs in the market is affecting the company, Ayebae stressed that locally manufactured drugs threat is almost non-existent.
"The drugs that are fake are mostly international brand that are imported, and as we speak it is huge." Reiterating Ayebae's comments, Chairman, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMGMAN), Mr. Okey Akpa added "We are very worried, as a professional group, we have taken the issue up, we are in the process of engaging NAFDAC very aggressively to curb the issue of fake drugs. He went further to say the group also visited factories of member-companies in order to ascertain compliance."
Still on encouraging indigenous drug production, like a new bride, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, also visited Fidson and urged the management to target a dominant position in African pharmaceutical manufacturing landscape and ultimately compete for global reckoning.
The minister said he was impressed with the company's achievement so far and promised government's support in ensuring sustainable growth.
While observing the leading pharmaceutical company's contribution to national economic development, he added that the company must not rest on its oars until it becomes a leading pharmaceutical company in Africa and ultimately the world.
"I am happy to be in a pharmaceutical company that has done significantly well to the development of Nigeria. This is the first pharmaceutical company I will be visiting as a minister. I am so proud of what I have seen and I will be delighted to read in another 15 to 20 years that Fidson is the best in the world," he said.
He charged the company to identify ways of further integrating research and development into its operations by partnering with various research institutes and also set up its research facility.
Onu stressed that the federal government is concerned with the development of the country through diversification of the economy and is charting a new course by ensuring that raw materials produced locally are utilised in production processes with the intervention of Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO) and that purchase of made-in-Nigeria product is encouraged amongst Nigerians.
Furthermore, the minister spoke of the federal government's plans to encourage local industries, especially fully indigenous organisations that have shown great promise like Fidson.
Reacting to the minister's comment, Fidson's Sales and Marketing Director, Mr. Olugbenga Olayeye, appreciated the minister for his confidence in the company. He expressed confidence that government's support will go a long way to boost the company's capacity for local pharmaceutical manufacturing and ultimately transform the country's pharmaceutical industry and the economy at large.
Also speaking during the meeting, Fidson Operations Director, Mr. Abiola Adebayo highlighted the several benefits of the factory to include high quality and affordable healthcare products, world-class pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, employment generation, increased local content, generation of stronger partnerships, as well as strategic brand and market positioning.
Adebayo urged the minister to help advocate for the enactment or review of policies that will address the plight of local pharmaceutical manufacturers by the federal government. These, he said, will go a long way to ensure more regular supply of drugs, further enhance response to health emergencies and ultimately save more lives of Nigerians.
Fidson offers its customers an extensive product range of its own branded generics. The company works closely with local and international universities for research and development (R&D) to continuously improve formulations and pharmaceutical product offerings to the market.
The indigenous company recently entered into a partnership with the University of Sunderland in the UK to foster collaboration in R&D. Beyond R&D, there is also an opportunity for knowledge and resource sharing between both organisations as well as training opportunities.
Fidson has positioned itself as a local company with global standards and prides itself on quality pharmaceuticals that are comparable to any other pharmaceutical manufacturing company in the world.
"We are the largest employer of pharmacists in the Nigerian private healthcare sector. Employing pharmacists enables us to maintain quality control standards and product formulations. We are now well-recognised and placed within the market for sustained growth."
The company, which was incorporated in 1995, is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and has over 200 quality products across several therapeutic classes. "Our product portfolio cuts across anti-infectives, gastrointestinal, antiretroviral, anti-malarial, cardiovascular, analgesic, haematinics and supplements.
"Our vision has always been to add value to the lives of Nigerians by providing affordable pharmaceuticals of excellent quality. This drove the evolution from a distributor for multinationals in 1995, to a distributor of our own brands in 1996 with our brand of Ciprofloxacin, Ciprotab, which is today a market leader in the antibiotics segment.
"We subsequently set up our first local manufacturing facility in July 2002, which was eventually lent to a contract manufacturing Joint Venture after we inaugurated a bigger plant in 2006, incorporating a liquid line. In 2008, Fidson was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) and is now one of the leading indigenous pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria.
"Investing heavily in local production capacity has been an effective strategy that Fidson has followed. The company's state-of-the-art manufacturing plant would see us double, if not triple, our production capacity and for the first time, adding intravenous fluids to our product portfolio. The facility is built to conform to the World Health Organisation (Geneva) current Good Manufacturing Practice (WHO-cGMP) standards."
The company's consistent performance in the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector was recognised by Frost and Sullivan, who named Fidson as the recipient of its '2014 Growth Excellence Leadership Award in the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Industry' among other recognitions in recent time.