Banning Of Drug Importation: An Objection, By Osa Williams
Shortly before Chief of Staff to President Buhari Abba Kyari travelled to Germany and thereafter returned and tested positive to the coronavirus, some drug manufacturers in Nigeria had mounted pressures on Kyari and other power brokers at Aso Villa to prevail on the Buhari government to ban the importation of certain essential drugs into Nigeria.
These essential drugs are: Antibiotics (for fighting bacteria infections)-levofloxacin tablet, Ofloxacin tablet, Tetracycline HCL Capsule, Doxycycline HCI capsule, Penicillins, Amoxicillin, Ampicillin + cloxacillin capsule; Erythromycin tablet, Chloramphenicol, Ciprofloxacin infusion; Anti-fungals (For mycotic infections e.g. athlete foot etc.)-clotrimazole tablet, Flonazole capsure; Anti-hypertensives/ Anti-Angina-Amiloride HCL 5mg +50mg, Amlodipine table, Methyodopa 250 tablet, Lisinopril tablet; Anti-Ulcer agents (For treatment of Ulcer in GERD)-Oprazole, Esomeprazole tablet, Cimetidine tablet 200 mg, Misoprostol tablet; Analgesic/Anti-inflammatory and Antipyretic agents-Paracetamol containing tablets, capsules and syrubs, Diclofenac sodium/Potassium tablet; Anti-Diabetic agents (For treatment of diabetic patients)-Metformin tablet.
Cough Preparations-All cough preparation Syrubs, liquid and tablets; Anti-Histamines (For treatment of allergic rhinitis and other allergic reactions)-Diphenhydramine HCI Syrup; Benzodiazepines ( For reducing anxiety seizures relaxing muscles thus inducing sleep)-Diazepam, Nitrazepam, Bromezepam; Vitamin/Trace Elements-Vitamin C, Yeast etc; J, Corticosteroids (Lessen swelling, redness itching and asthma) Prednisolone; K, Bronchodilator Relaxes and widens of airways e,g asthma); Eye and ear drops-Chloramphenicol eye drop, Neomycin plus dexamethasone eye drops; Liquid Mouth washes and Disinfectants.
You must be familiar with some of the above drugs which importation they want to ban. I gathered that money had even exchanged hands between the people mounting pressures and some power brokers in Aso Villa. And that the banning of importation of the aforesaid drugs would have been approved at the last botched Federal Executive Council meeting. Oue pasa?. Under the pretext that they possess the capacity, wherewithal and competence to manufacture the aforesaid drugs in Nigeria, these drug manufacturers want the importation of the aforesaid drugs banned in Nigeria so that they alone would enjoy the sole monopoly of importing the drugs into Nigeria so as to enable them to maximize their profits in the drug industry.
This shows how personal greed for money can obstruct the pathway to the promotion of the common good. We live in a highly materialistic culture in which the only concern of most people is to acquire material wealth at all cost even if it entails endangering the life of their fellow men and women. This attitude must change. We cannot continue to breed a new generation of people unconcerned about the social order.
Considering the existential threat posed by the ravaging coronavirus this is not the time to ban essential drugs rather this is the time make all essential drugs available, accessible and affordable to all Nigerians. This is the time to display humanitarianism not selfishness. This is the time to construct an ethic of human solidarity for promotion of the human welfare of our people. This is the time to shun parochialism and provincialism. Banning of the importation of essential drugs which Nigeria cannot yet manufacture portends great danger to public health especially in these coronavirus-ravaging times. I make no pretext to being neither a medical doctor nor a pharmacist.
But common sense teaches that the scarcity of antibiotics in a country leads to many untimely deaths. When drug shortages consistently occur in a country the pharmaceutical and medicine shops are flooded with adulterated drugs, and medical doctors will start giving optimal treatments which are not only least effective but which increase the risk of antimicrobial resistance.
Researchers have warned that shortage of antifungal products in a country like Nigeria can lead to sporadic epidemic outbreak. Sudden ban of essential drugs can lead to widespread negative impact on health care delivery. Malaria, for instance, is the main cause of death in children bellow the age of 5 years in Nigeria.
People are even suggesting that pregnant women be treated in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy to alleviate the incidence of malaria in the mother and foetus. Consequently Nigeria cannot afford the dearth of anti-malarial drugs especially in the treatment of Plasmodium falciparum. In fact if the Buhari government really and truly intends to assist many poverty-stricken and sick Nigerians at this time it should deliver essential drugs to their respective homes.
Human welfare is the epicenter of all developments. If the government boasts that it places high premium on the lives of the citizenry then it must demonstrate it by going the extra mile in making essential drugs available, accessible and affordable for the common man.
The coronavirus, we have been told several times, thrives on existing illnesses and kills sick people faster. This is why the government must now invest heavily in promoting public health. Nigeria’s greatest challenge over the years has been that while the Nigerian rich enjoy uninterrupted access to medical tourism abroad majority of Nigerians especially the poor Nigerian rural dwellers have no access to basic primary health care. And with the high cost of essential drugs in the market sky-rocking owing to the 20% duty slammed on imported drugs by the government the lives of many poor Nigerians are greatly endangered.
Therefore the Buhari government is respectfully urged to remove the strangulating 20% Import Adjustment tax on drug importation in Nigeria so that enough drugs and medicament will be imported into Nigeria for numerous sick Nigerians to buy at affordable prices. The neigbouring African countries are operating a zero tax regime plus lower port charges on drug importation, why should Nigeria operate a 20% tax regime that has now rendered essential drugs inaccessible to the public?
One of the promises of the Buhari government is that it would ensure that many Nigerians would have unimpeded access to primary health care services. In one speech, President Buhari said: “Our goal of revitalizing the Primary Health care Centres is to ensure that quality basic health care services are delivered to majority of Nigerians irrespective of their location in the country”.
The most effective way of ensuring that quality health care services are effectively delivered to majority of Nigerians is to allow the importation of essential drugs into Nigeria so that members of the public would have access to them at affordable prices. Non-access to essential drugs leads to the spread of coronavirus and preventable diseases such as malaria, polio, cholera and measles in Nigeria. By allowing the public unfettered access to essential drugs at affordable prices, the billions of Naira squandered in medical tourism every year would have been saved.
In any case, most countries have shut their respective borders at the moment due to the ravaging coronavirus e. Most Nigerians are presently falsely imprisoned inside their respective houses at the moment. Only God knows when the coronavirus pandemic will be over to enable them to regain their full freedom of movement. Therefore it will be suicidal to ban the importation of essential drugs into Nigeria at this moment. Since the drug manufacturers in Nigeria still lack the requisite wherewithal to manufacture the essential drugs needed in Nigeria it will counterproductive banning the importation of essential drugs badly needed by sick persons in Nigeria.
Health is wealth. The pitiable situation of the Nigerian sick merits a top priority. We can no longer ignore the sick among us. They need essential drugs to stay alive. We should build a strong solidarity for the welfare of the sick in Nigeria.
• Osa Williams is a Medical Analyst based in Lagos.