The Nigerian pharmaceutical industry is heavily dependent on importation. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control recently confirmed that not less than 70 percent of drugs used in Nigeria are imported. Yet, young pharmacists expected to champion the evolution of the country’s drug-manufacturing sector to change the narrative are shunning becoming production pharmacists due to poor remuneration, limited career growth opportunities among other factors, ALFRED OLUFEMI reports:
Folorunsho Tijesu’s dream to own a drug manufacturing company informed his decision to study pharmacy at the University of Ibadan. Before securing admission to study pharmacy, the young pharmacist had hoped to work with a pharmaceutical manufacturing company before eventually setting up his own company. But things took a different turn after he graduated in 2017.
After the mandatory one-year internship, which he undertook with a Lagos-based pharmaceutical company, he jettisoned the idea of taking a full-time role as an industrial production pharmacist.
It is noteworthy to state that pharmacy students are trained to practice in different subspecialties of the profession while in school. After graduation, a trained pharmacist can choose to be a community pharmacist, hospital pharmacist, academic pharmacist, or industrial pharmacist among other options in the pharmaceutical sector.
They can also practice in other sectors of the economy upon graduation as there are cases of pharmacists in the banking, oil, and telecommunication sectors. However, if there is one area of pharmacy that these drug experts cannot afford to abdicate for others, it is in the actual production of drugs.
That is why the lack of interest in real drug production by young pharmacy graduates should be a cause of concern.
“During my IT days, I worked majorly in the factory, I passed through different units. I started work in the liquid preparation unit where we manufactured suspensions, syrups, and all of that. I also worked in the laboratory unit where quality control analysis was done,” Folorunsho told our correspondent.
He said, although the time spent at the company was eye-opening and engaging, he decided not to pursue an interest in industrial pharmacy and switched areas of practice.
Folorunsho, who now works as an inventory manager in a private hospital, said he made the drastic U-turn based on the low remuneration of the pharmacists working in the industrial production sector whom he worked with during his internship days.
Their monthly pay, according to him, is paltry when compared with those of pharmacists practicing in hospitals or those in pharmaceutical marketing.
“I noticed that the pay was not so encouraging. I was an IT student so the pay then was nothing compared to a graduate. But I compared what one of the pharmacists there told me he was earning to what others in other areas of pharmacy practice were earning. What he was earning as a full-fledged production pharmacist is less than what he even earned as an intern. I got to hear other peoples’ experiences too,” he told PUNCH Healthwise.
He also noted that the career prospects in industrial pharmacy are limited compared to other branches of pharmacy, adding that the challenge of working for long hours is also discouraging.
“Some companies might require you to work 8 am to 5 pm or 6 pm and not all of us will like to work that way.”
Folorunsho appears to have temporarily shelved his dream of owning a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, saying that it is also a capital-intensive endeavour.
He said his current role as an inventory manager involves the supply chain part of pharmacy and pays better than working as a production pharmacist in industrial practice.
Who is a production pharmacist?
Production pharmacists deal with the development, production, and quality control of drugs and pharmaceutical-related products. They work mostly in pharmaceutical manufacturing plants.
Also referred to as industrial pharmacists, production pharmacists make invaluable contributions to the production of quality medicines. They are thus important to the growth of the pharmaceutical manufacturing sub-sector of the pharmaceutical industry in any nation.
PUNCH HealthWise’s finding, however, revealed that due to too much focus of the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector on the importation of finished products, more pharmacists are concentrating on the business aspect of pharmacy by going into marketing and sales of drugs.
According to the United Nations COMTRADE, which is a database on global trade, Nigeria imported drugs and pharmaceutical-related products valued at N2.97bn in 2020.
A previous analysis by PUNCH Financials which referenced a set of data compiled by CEIC, a global data firm, also noted that Nigeria imported medicinal and pharmaceutical products worth $417.523m in 2020, higher than most African countries.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, in 2019, estimated that over 70 percent of drugs consumed in the country are imported, leaving the local drug manufacturing industries at a disadvantage in competing with foreign companies.
Commenting on this, a former President of PSN, Sam Ohuabunwa, during an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, said despite some interventions from the government, the industry is still struggling to meet up.
“Many people are still depending on importation. We run a risk that we are not able to reach the goals that have been set regarding the ratio between locally and internationally manufactured medicines. We thought we should subdue it.
As I speak to you, the estimate (of drugs produced locally) is about 40 or even just 30 percent.
That has been challenging. For example, the intervention we got from CBN during this COVID period when CBN started supporting pharmaceutical investors long-term funding even though the funding support is not all that we need but at least it was the right move,” he told our correspondent.
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