Written by Williams ABAH

20 years of drug testing in Nigeria

Poor quality medicine is one of the obstacles to improving health in developing countries like Nigeria.

A critical study on production of medicine shows that one in 10 medicines may not meet acceptable standards.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, it noted that poor quality drugs, and inadequate supply of health facilities to health centre is one of the problem in African continent.

Poor quality health services in Nigeria, has reach a pinnacle where even essential drugs for emergency illness like malaria, headache and body pains are scarce at the primary health centre.

The WHO received 1500 reports of poor quality and falsified medicines between 2013 and 2017: 42% came from Africa. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that 116 000 additional deaths could be caused every year by substandard and falsified antimalarial medicine in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigeria’s experience over the past 10 years shows that cost-effective solutions to the problem of sub-standard drugs can be developed on the continent. But unless the government, academia, and the private sector collaborate, these solutions can end up not being used.

A postgraduate student of pharmaceutical chemistry in Nigeria in the early 1990s, disclosed at a press conference on health facilities held recently in Abuja, that it was a difficult task for local manufacturers and universities to maintain the analytical instrument needed to ensure drug quality.

Narrating the efficacy of drugs from manufacturing point, the pharmaceutical guru said that most of the equipment used for the manufacturing of drugs was imported and expensive, and budgets were small, making it difficult for Pharmaceutical companies to boost local production of drugs.

In this scenario, it has pave ways for counterfeiters and clandestine manufacturers a chance to push poor quality medicines into circulation. This is premise on the fact that the pharmaceutical manufacturers did all they could to ensure substandard equipment are used to produce fake drugs to meet the market demand for drugs.

This has on many occasions caused a dangerous setback for the treatment of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

It also contributes to the global problem of antibiotic resistance. Proper quality is important for patient safety as well as the effectiveness of medicine.

It was discovered from records that several countries and regions have pharmacopoeias to guide drug quality standards. While some countries in African, especially Nigeria don’t have pharmacopoeias.

A Developed countries have fill the gaps in various health institutions through development partners to guide them in drugs manufacturing and distribution.

For example, the United States Pharmacopoeia is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID. The agency has introduced a quality initiative in several countries, Nigeria among them.

The aim is to share scientific expertise and provide technical support. But these standards call for expensive technology. In most cases this has to be imported from Western countries.

There have been initiatives in Nigeria to develop local technology. But in my experience these initiatives fail to get the needed attention.

The learning journey, according to a group of researchers at the pharmaceutical chemistry department, University of Ibadan has looked into this issue, and came up with a method for testing drugs using low-cost technology in 1998.

It started with the realisation that most modern drugs are aromatic in their chemical structure. They are also capable of absorbing ultraviolet light. The main drawback was that most drugs are colourless and are not directly measurable on digital colorimeters.

These were much cheaper to maintain than Ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometers that are driven by monochromators.

The researchers came out with solution by labelling chemistry that imparts colour to a molecule. The result was a reagent and assay technology that fused low cost with high tech and versatility of applications. For example, it can be used to test the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. Another example is a test for the blood pressure medication propranolol.

This technology according to report was not adopted widely. This was mainly because there was no interface between the university and industry. Industry was not aware of the technology. What’s more frustrating is that the analytical reagent developed has been used in other academic laboratories around the world.

A major lesson from the experience is that deliberate collaboration between industry, academia and government is the only way to maximize expertise and intellectual property of the Nigerian academy, as it relates to the manufacturing of health facilities.



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