By SAM OHUABUNWA*
The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) has received the news that the Federal Government of Nigeria is about to import a herbal concoction called COVID Organics (CVO) from Madagascar with utter disbelief. While in principle we would not mind Nigerian government importing any new drug that is proven to cure COVID-19 or indeed any other disease for which we have neither the capacity nor the technology to produce locally, we are totally appalled that Nigeria is about to spend scarce foreign exchange to import ‘coal into Newcastle’. Even if we are not going to pay for this, it is thoroughly disgraceful that a country that should be the leader of Africa, with the largest GDP would allow itself to be dragged this low. Nigeria has about 174 universities (43 federal, 52 state and 79 private), 20 faculties of Pharmacy and about 69 federal-funded research institutes (including National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research & Development and the National Institute for Medical Research) while Madagascar has only 6 universities, 1 faculty of Pharmacy and 9 research centres!
Nigeria has some of the best scientists (pharmaceutical, medical, biochemical, biological etc.) in the world who have done so much work on natural and herbal medicines. Nigeria has developed a pharmacopeia of natural and herbal products and has one of the richest flora and fauna — potent sources of phytomedicines. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, a number of them have raised their voices that they have herbal and natural products that can be used to treat or manage it. Some have patents. Many herbal companies and producers have announced specifically that they have herbal formulations that can do what this ‘invention’ from Madagascar can do.
We have raised our voices severally that the Federal Government should review these claims and help put them through clinical evaluation, as most of these producers cannot afford to conduct clinical trials. We have recommended that a portion of the nearly N25billion donated/allocated for the COVID-19 pandemic should be dedicated for local research and development. But our government has remained essentially silent, only waiting to participate in WHO-sponsored or -mandated trials. We have been told that Nigeria is participating in the WHO solidarity trial, but nothing on trying our own inventions and formulations.
Now we want to import COVID Organics from Madagascar to try! Why are we like this? If the world can supply us synthetic and chemically-sophisticated medicines which we apparently lack the technology to produce, why must we wait for the world to supply us herbal formulations which we can easily make and which we have similar products?
We urge our government to save Nigerian pharmaceutical scientists and other scientists from the shame of having our country import and try herbal remedies which God has given us in abundance and some of which our grandfathers and grandmothers had used for ages. Let us try our own local formulations before we try COVID Organics or any other imported remedy. Every well-meaning nation has been in a race to find cures, remedies and other medical supplies used for COVID-19, while we seem to wait for other nations to solve our problems. There is much talk but little action. This dependency mentality needs to change and now is the time. We must seize this opportunity to look inwards, build confidence on our abilities, competences and re-orientate our national economic philosophy from import dependency to export-driven. And Nigeria can beat India and China in the production and export of herbal products if anyone is willing to lead us down this path.
*Pharm (Mazi) Ohuabunwa, OFR, MON, NPOM, FPSN, is the president, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria