Margaret Obiageli Olele Corporate Affairs Director (Nigeria, West Africa,East Africa and some parts of Southern Africa) spoke extensively on Counterfeiting issues as a major stakeholder with Lanre Adesanya ,in this chat she also delved into the Pfizer existence in Nigeria and the most recent industrial leap of the pharmaceutical giant. Excerpt:
Counterfeiting poses a daunting challenge on the pharmaceutical industry,how has Pfizer fares thus tackling the menace?
Counterfeits is a critical issue I saw somewhere on the internet whether it is 100 percent true I cannot affirm, that 40 percent of what comes in be it food or drug is counterfeited,we shouldn’t work with figures but what we know is that counterfeit is a critical issue in Nigeria. So whether people are bringing in counterfeited products from outside or whether these counterfeited products are being manufactured locally,the reality is that counterfeits exist and they do exist largely in the Pharmaceutical space. We’ve had NAFDAC doing all they can to resolve issues around counterfeit but the reality is that these challenges still exist and the are still there. So most of the trade group’s,pharmaceutical groups and other stakeholders have been looking out on how to resolve this issues around counterfeited products and most of these even though NAFDAC had come up with this SMS verification on some products but it’s not been full prove the reality is that we are still seeing it, the more technology is put in,the more the counterfeiters go ahead of this technologies to see how they can beat it,so we’ve been having critical challenges and they are still there. So the question is, are we going to fold our hands and pretended that we are not gonna do anything about it?
Pfizer as an Organization belongs to a group called the ACC which is called the Anti Counterfeit Coalition,that looks beyond drugs or other kinds of pharmaceutical products and every year on world anti counterfeit day we do a lot of awareness,we go to Radio and TV stations to let people know the realities and dangers of counterfeited products, because most of the times people say they buy counterfeited products because they are cheap so the first thing you have to do, is being cheap equated to your live? So these are some of the things people need to know.
That sometimes they need to be able to check and see the realities and dangers of counterfeits,Pfizer also belongs to what you call the BASCAP, BASCAP is part of international chamber of commerce platform globally and it means Basic Action to Stop Anti Counterfeits and Piracy. We are members of the working group and actually Pfizer cochairs that working committee, in Nigeria which is the one we chair,there are loads and loads of things that BASCAP is planning to run with this year so, Pfizer had work with different stakeholders we’ve with different stakeholders, from regulatory in terms of trainings to understand counterfeit,to better have capacity to immediately note what is counterfeited and what is not. We’ve had capacity trainings in different parts of the world,we have had anti counterfeit meetings different stakeholders in West Africa,in East Africa to address this issue and to work on maybe country by country plan on how to resolve the issues around counterfeit .We have also at least at some points pushed and that is really where we would love to see a lot more of the media doing, because we do have counterfeits,we have some bills in the National Assembly yet to be passed and we are not seeing that,so even where you have laws that exist there is the enforcement part of it,the will to enforce is not as much as it should be and so that is why you will see that we can start off issues around driving counterfeits,but apart from creating awareness,letting people know, engaging the media and getting their support and collaboration to create awareness,working with partners to do that there is also and more critically the government piece of it and which involves ensuring that you have the enabling policies and also the will to execute and enforce these policies. So these are some of the areas that we need to beef up on so that things would happen.
Pfizer at 60 and the success story thus far?
For me one of our greatest success story has been in the area of cardiovascular diseases,Pfizer over the years and at least by the time I joined we were doing what we called cardiovascular screenings across the country, in communities,screening in Churches,women groups even with journalist because we believe that we need to look at those who have the risk factors of cardiovascular concerns to be able to nib it in the bud through checking cholesterol,temperatures and all that. If I were to give one of the critical highlights of what we have done as Pfizer locally in the country,it is being able to systematically reduce cardiovascular concerns through the CSR to communities screenings that we do,the second is through the trainings that we have been having with Doctors over the years,we had what we call the cardiovascular summit. It was not just in Nigeria but also across key cities in Sub-Saharan Africa and what we do there is to have setting new themes,new era in cardiovascular diseases and help improve the way they treat patients that have cardiovascular concerns,even at some points the summit itself now was more like taken away from Pfizer and moved to an advisory council. Made up of experts,Doctor that would help drive that understanding and set the theme for the yearly summit,so we have that and we had all the big names in cardiovascular concerns in Nigeria,they were on the advisory council and at some points,we had what we called CPD points and things like that, so there was also a need for people to now get credit so young pharmacists would come in for trainings because they know that at the end of the day they are gonna some credits to enhance their career as pharmacists. In terms of trainings and screenings we are very,very active,also in terms of engaging government on guidelines and policies and to improve policies generally in the area of noncommunicable diseases. We are pretty strong and so yes we did quite a lot in that area of cardiovascular concerns. The second area where we did quite a lot is in the area of vaccines as the pneumococcal vaccine,Pfizer has introduced the Pneumococcal vaccine in 2010 and with the introduction we noticed that pneumonia is actually responsible for the death of a lot of children under ages of five and it is preventable just by having vaccines, and so we worked in partnership with a lot of groups,the medical women association,the Pediatric Association of Nigeria and to continually create awareness,we had things like speaking books where people would punch and you use that the local areas so that people will know what pneumonia is and how how to manage pneumonia,so we did quite a lot in terms of education,mobilization,social awareness and finally in terms of working with the Delta State Government to provide vaccines at access price for children living in camps. That time there was flood in Nigeria,remember that was 2011,we were very much into working with government to do that. Also with the Lagos State Government,we donated over 6,000 of the Pneumococcal vaccines for people who are compromised because of their situation,like children living with sickle cell and all that, for them to have the vaccines to help strengthen their immunity against pneumonia,which is one of the critical thing that we actually pull them down,upper respiratory tract infection. In the area of sickle cell this is one area that people have abandoned nobody talks about, they don’t want to say anything about,nobody thinks about it, they feel that once you have a child with sickle cell maybe you should just go and lock her or maybe to get the child to school, we felt that there was a need because we realize that Nigeria has the highest sickle cell births per year and the largest number of people with sickle cell in the world. In this country,how I wish we could always say the good things and i could say we have the largest, but usually when there is any health issues we are always the largest and this is one of that, Pneumonia was also one of those diseases same with sickle cell,so what did we do? We worked with the ministry of health and other stakeholders, agencies to make sure that we set up a sickle cell network to have a framework to even be able to discuss about the treatment of sickle cell, because if you don’t have the framework,guidelines and protocol how can you treat?
You have to have a plan and so that was what we did to create that plan the framework that would enable the treatment understanding and everything about taking care of people living with sickle cell to be a lot more healthy so that again is something we did so Pfizer had even from a global level we are the largest anti biotic company in the world because recently we even bought over AstraZeneca line of antibiotics and what presently happened is that we have also been donating to the Federal Government of Nigeria one of our major antibiotics for the treatment of blinding glaucoma, so there is this river blindness thing that usually people who have it they go to either at their first step to do surgeries and all that so the antibiotics have to be used after surgeries to ensure that they don’t have infections and all that,it is actually Pfizer’s medicines and over seven years Pfizer has been donating their antibiotics in the national programme for the treatment of glaucoma, we have done quite a lot in the area of HIV and like I said we have partnered with government, NAFDAC and all that for issues of counterfeits, I can just go on and on there are so much we have done to help the health and well being of Nigerians through education, awareness, media collaboration and in some cases through outright donation of our products.
Challenges confronting Pfizer?
Just like everything else and all you need to do is to google and check Pfizer and you see conversations around wikilinks and big corporations big issues,where this things happens, so this is where the not so shining stars of our existence in Nigeria although there are different sides to it,what I would just say is that this issues has been amicably settled with the government and critical stakeholders that are involved appropriately been compensated as required by the agreement with the government and other stakeholders concerned,so every corporation would always have critical issues but I would say that if we look at what Pfizer has done in the last 60 years you would really want to applaud the contributions than say oh my God this people have not done great work. I use my mother as a typical example,my mummy is 83 and I can tell you,I can even put a call through to her now,she will tell you at least about five,she is hypertensive,she is diabetic and with five of our problems but she is strong and happy,if I call her now you think you are talking to a lady in her thirties,first she would say Maggisco that is my nickname you know and she goes on and on but she’s been on Pfizer medications about four of them,she has been on Pfizer hypertensive medications, and even recently she did an operation to remove cataracts in her eyes,she had eye glaucoma whatever and she had survived so far because she’s been using Pfizer products. So she is a living testament of the value Pfizer has in the lives of the people this is a fantastic woman,with great ideas,brought out fantastic children i.e me being the last born of the family (laughs),but my eldest sister is a Professor of Medicine and so on and so forth. So imagine if she had died like thirty something years ago when she discovered she was diabetic and hypertensive? So that is one example of one family, you can imagine what they would have done for other families and what we also tried to do in that place is to ensure that we prevented people from getting to those levels where they begin to use those products, we will be happy to sell our products more and more but through those screenings that we were doing in communities and people who were at risk, what we are trying to do was to reduce the enormity of this happening of people saying okay we have x number of people just to reduce the burden of cardiovascular diseases in Nigeria because face it Africa of which Nigeria has the largest population in sub Saharan, we have been having the infectious diseases right and all of a sudden in addition to malaria and other infectious diseases we are now beginning to have what chronic diseases as well as what we called communicable diseases,so communicable diseases on the rise,non communicable diseases on the rise because we have imbibed some food cultures that are not exactly a usual thing,food cultures also even habits we live in the city tell me how many times you’re have bought gala? I am not saying gala is harmful but when you use that which is meant to be a snack and use it to supplement real food for the day, I saw one of my colleagues she was not feeling too fine,she was not even at work for most of last week she came back to work today and she was taking gala and tea and I say you are just recuperating, you should eat proper food and snack it on gala later but this is not food take proper food. This is just one typical example because there are other things and of course we are being introduced to other kinds of food that were not quickly there when we were growing,back then while young though we had gala but there are other stuffs too,like ipekere,kokoro,guguru and epa,aside this we have fry bread fruits. I was born in Ibadan,I lived most of my live in Lagos,I came to Lagos 1970 and have lived in Lagos ever since,I was brought up in Yaba so all these stuffs mentioned I know, there are others that I don’t like to mention their names because they sound vulgar (laughs).
Scourge of Lassa and Pfizer’s research to offer a leeway medically?
I would tell you one thing, first of all it is to understand and that is my believe that medicines because there is a wide scope there is Lassa upsurge, there is Ebola which happened before and I know that Pfizer from a research perspective are in collaboration with this upcoming tropical diseases so that is on the radar at the global level but for me my concern that are critical is that Pfizer’s product is accessible because the major issue is that Pfizer medicines are seen as too costly to get because they are up there their medicines are very expensive but there are ways by which you are able to get it. Our products medicines are not necessarily what they called the generic brands you can still get this medicines at access price,how can we do that? How can we improve on the National Health Insurance Scheme in Nigeria?How can we work with government to ensure that we get those medicines to the level that people can get it at affordable prices, all our quality products that is where I would want us to get to helping more people to have access pull together resources in groups that know their rights, that would come and discuss with our pharmaceutical company and say you know we have glaucoma,we have sickle cell,we have high blood pressure or hypertension we want to use your medicines, what price would we get your medicines? You understand what I mean, I want a situation where we would have a sustainable health care system. Availability of supplies of good quality products,systems that work people can access medicines, access treatments,if we are able to get that off the ground while at the global level we are pushing and saying okay let’s even look at what we can do to drive research work which is ongoing and a couple of other things, I can eventually send you maybe research that we are doing across the world,whatever they are even I can get my medical colleague who is a medical director to share that with you. For you to know the level of research that we are doing,another thing I would say is that I would like to encourage local researchers to reach out to organizations and say okay fine we want to resolve our issues this is it,can we get funding in a way that can drive constructive research work not the type that somebody wakes up in the morning and say do awareness for Lassa fever,I can do awareness you can also do awareness we don’t need to have a grant to do that but to train our NGOs to know what direction they need to go to big organizations and research companies and Universities, before there was a lot of collaboration between Nigerian universities and universities out but situations where 90 percent of time ASUU is on strike now the most mundane issues are what we discuss, salaries and all, people have to survive I am not saying it is not important if they owe three months or if I deserved a pay rise and I am denied I would not be happy, so critical things that we need,this is just what I call the simple quick wins. Things I can have instead of some esoteric projects that are up there,let’s try and resolve all these things and we would move,natural climb towards resolving those issues, because this one are larger issues if we are not able to tackle it, look at the Ebola case if not that Lagos organized it would have been disastrous, but because God loved us and how did we resolve it eventually? Through understanding of how it started in Congo,while we were discussing my sister who was a public health professor told me that I it worked in Congo was that they were using the blood of those who already had it to inject those newly infected so as to build immunity. She told me even before and eventually that was what was done. So if as African countries we can learn from ourselves, we handle our issues slowly but surely and we are organized in doing what we do and everybody, who are stakeholder takes their jobs a lot seriously and committed to getting things done we would move on yeah.
A decade after, what would Pfizer do to address the issue through research?
I don’t see Pfizer doing anything different from what they’ve been known to do,Pfizer is a research oriented company and they would continue to see how they can improve the disease burden of the country with some levels of research that would come from the global level I cannot put myself put my fingers to it but I believe there are lots of interests.
Counsel to other pharmaceutical companies to do things differently?
My advise is that you need not just bring up products arbitrarily, profits is good but you need to look at the needs of the country, look at the disease burden of the country to determine which areas you need to work at. For instance if you see that hypertension or sickle cell is a critical issue why not begin to look at how to bring in the medicines or research that can help drive that? Pharmaceutical company should begin to look at how they can drive collaboration with local experts,local researchers to pull things that are relevant to the market and country. Do you have a high sickle cell burden,do you have researchers like in the case of sickle cell Dr. Basuaye who has been doing fantastic well in the area of doing operation for people living with sickle cell,get pharmaceutical companies who are thinking of working with not like him to help improve that landscape, are we looking at our local and our floral and flower and say what we can take out of this to make malaria medicine like the Chinese apart from this and Artesunate,how can we look at our ‘dongoyaro’ and what have you,can we move them beyond the point where you have to cover yourself with it or drink it, can these so and so companies look at how they can collaborate to improve that,because the reality is that there is this plan by the African union that Africa will become a lot self independent in terms of pulling up and improving local manufacturing, so if I were an investor or pharmaceutical company coming into Nigeria,I would be looking at how can I tap into the local opportunities to improve the local environment and also to be more profitable because sooner than later local production is going to be given a lot more interest than imported products from outside, so I would advise that a lot of inward looking in spite of whatever they think that our political environment is like we should begin to seriously look into local production.