As Nigeria’s fragile healthcare system struggles to recover from the effect of COVID-19, LEADERSHIP checks reveal that high cost of diesel and poor electricity supply pose another phase of challenge.
Healthcare facilities, especially secondary and tertiary hospitals need constant electricity either for medical laboratory investigations, storage of drugs, samples and other healthcare services, LEADERSHIP learnt.
However, poor power supply and high cost of diesel has become a cause of concern for the health sector as pharmaceutical factories, medical laboratories and hospitals grapple with high cost of production and services, while the already impoverished patients bear the brunt of the cost.
The president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), Prof James Damen, told LEADERSHIP that it is very difficult for them to conduct any meaningful investigation without electricity.
He said, “We do a lot of research and our samples are usually stored in the refrigerator of minus 80 (-80). When there is no electricity, it is a major setback.
“For us to have a robust medical laboratory, electricity is very key. There must be a constant power supply and there must be a backup. For example, with this solar system that we already have around, every laboratory should be equip with solar system.”
Also, the immediate past president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr Francis Faduyile, told LEADERSHIP that medical equipment needs constant powering, stating that lack of stable electricity is having a lot of devastating effect on the management of patients.
He said, “It is unfortunate that we are now having a very high price to pay for diesel. Our electricity is not stable, a lot of us depend on diesel for power. Medical equipment need constant powering and I can tell you; it is having a lot of devastating effect on the management of our patients.
“So, what we need is for our government to ensure we have uninterrupted electricity because a lot of our hospitals are now rationing power and this has a lot of bad effect on the management of our patients.”
In the same vein, the national secretary, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) Pharm Gbenga Falabi, said in the western nations, the energy cost of the components of running a factory is about 3 per cent on the average, but in Nigeria it is above 27 per cent as at today, due to the high cost of diesel and poor power supply.
Sadly, he said the cost goes into the cost of the drug. The consumers bear it all. “The consumers who are already impoverished with the inflation and exchange rates are further impoverished with the high cost of drugs,” said Falabi.
Explaining the effect of electricity on drug storage, Falabi said for instance, a mega drug distributor uses diesel bought at N700/liter to maintain the temperature of where medicines are stored in the warehouse, adding that the efficacy of the drugs from that warehouse will be higher than those in the open market that are exposed under the sun.
He revealed that drugs exposed under the sun tend to expire sooner than the expiration date. “It brings forward the expiring date. The expiring date on each drug is calculated under a temperature of 25 degree centigrade. So, when you expose the medication to higher temperature, it brings the expiring date forward and there is no way for the consumers to test. Though on the labelling it is showing for instance June 2025 as expiring date, if that drug is taken to the laboratory for stability testing, that product may have an expiration date of 2022 because of the exposure to the sun.”
He recalled that NAFDAC has been given the nod to start local production of vaccines but worried that issues like energy cost and poor power supply could have negative impact on local production of the vaccines. “ It may even be cheaper to import than to produce locally,” he said.
Speaking further, he said availability of dollars to pharmaceutical manufacturing companies is still a challenge. “It is absurd for Nigerian government to expect pharmaceutical companies who produce drugs for their health to go to the black market to buy dollars for importation of the materials used in the production of drugs. Though we can access dollars through the bank, but we don’t always get what we need. It takes a long time to get the documentation ready, and then disbursement of the dollars from the bank.
“The COVID-19 era showed us the danger of importing drugs. The problem is not getting Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) from China or India and then produce the tablets here in Nigeria. It is not an issue. We have the expertise to produce drugs and we are producing, but our local production is about 34 per cent of our consumption.
“We also starch to produce drugs and we have foods in Nigeria that contain starch. Foods like yam, rice, cassava etc. Unfortunately, with the level of production, if the pharma industry depends on local starch, there will be food shortage of those foods in Nigeria, because those are our staple foods.
“If we must do this, we would need to do an evaluation. What is the current quantity of starch required by the pharma industry and other industries in Nigeria? What is the current production of yam, cassava etc in Nigeria? We then need to look at the strategy, how do we ramp up the production, so that we can have enough for those who will eat them and those who will use them for production.
“As some point we all need to wear the patriotic hat, so that we can begin to look inward to see how we can help to build a better Nigeria, because nobody will do it for us,” he said.
Also on local production, AMLSN president said, “We are thinking inward, what can we do as professionals in the country to be able to produce diagnostics. Diagnostic is a reagent that you use to conduct test. As it is now, everything is imported, we cannot grow as a nation depending on importation.
“In fact, the government should task the professionals, enough of all these importation, can’t we produce something and export? You will see simple test kits like pregnancy test kits, hypertension test kits are all imported.
“We are all making effort to strengthen the health system. When we have equipment that are produced in the country, then is an indication that we are actually making progress. There are areas that we have to look at to make sure that we move forward.
“The government has to also support us because no matter how experienced you are, if there is no enabling environment created by the government, you know that you are very handicap.”