By Hassan Zaggi
Thursday last week-January 28, was one of the days the Minister of State for Health, Senator Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora, will never forget in a hurry. It was the day he went for facility tour of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), located in Idu area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
As a parastatal of the Federal Government, NIPRD was established by Government Order No. 33 Vol. 74 of June 11, 1987, part B under the Science and Technology Act Cap 276, a PSN and PMG-MAN Initiative.
It became functional in 1989 under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.
NIPRD was later moved to the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Health in 2001 with the core functions to undertake, promote and sponsor research and development work on drugs, biological products including vaccines with pharmaceutical raw materials from indigenous natural resources and by synthesis using appropriate science and technology methodologies is expected to contribute to the rapid economic transformation of the nation.
Over the years, NIPRD has performed well, however, below standard and expectation due to myriad of challenges related to funding.
Even though the Health Minister has been hearing about the challenges bedeviling NIPRD for a long time, he has, however, not seen the sorry situation face-to-face.
During the tour, the Minister entered all the laboratories in the Institute. He interacted with the Professors who are the heads of the units.
It is worth noting that one of the best brains in world in terms of research who was the former Director General of NIPRD-Prof. Gamaliel Karniyus, is currently working in one of the laboratories in the institute. This is to show how sophisticated NIPRD is in terms of man power.
Every well-meaning Nigeria who comes face-to-face with the challenges confronting NIPRD, he or she must be uncomfortable, especially, because the Institute is blessed with world-class scientists who are handicapped due to poor working environment. Former President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Dr. Yakkasai was also not happy when he visited NIPRD and saw its challenges some years back.
NIPRD parades the best brains in terms of pharmaceutical research, not only in Africa, but globally.
The Minister who applauded the staff of the Institute for working hard despite the discouraging environment, however, admitted that the institute is chocked by many challenges.
“What I have seen here is good. That does not mean that I have not also seen some of the challenges.
“What I have also seen is the good working relationship among staff.
“We need to source for funding so that NIPRD can do more. Funding so that the Institute can have up to date equipment so that they can do better service delivery.
“It is not proper using, for example, a 17th century equipment in the 21st century.
“One of the things that makes our scientists to do better in other countries is that our own approach here is very crude, but they are getting result.
“You can now imagine if you have the needed facilities available. You can imagine that we are still dragging with the issues of power as basic as it is. You can imagine when you are working in an environment where all these things are taken for granted. Water, electricity, infrastructure etc.
“I want to commend all our scientists in NIPRD. In spite of working in unfavourable conditions they are putting their best,” Senator Mamora said.
Addressing journalists after the tour, the Minister said: “Today’s historic tour is coming at a critical time of a ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, when the country and indeed all Nigerians earnestly look up to the timely interventions from the institute towards proffering ways to tame the scourge of this public health crisis.
“The current administration of the institute, under the leadership of the 4th Director-General and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Obi Adigwe, have painstakingly ramp up strategies to re-engineer the workings of the institute in all aspects.
“These new strategic engagements and drive towards rebranding NIPRD into a world class organization, that is innovative and product-output oriented, has indeed started yielding positive and visible results.
“This important exercise avails us the opportunity to get feedback and undertake on the spot appraisal of the true situations on things at the agencies, for necessary actions or otherwise if needs be.
“The Director General, Dr. Obi Peter Adigwe, I wish to, on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Health, congratulate you and your team for reawakening the potentials and indeed the prospects of the institute to becoming the reference point of pharmaceutical Research and Development in West African region, with Nigeria being the hub for pharmaceutical industry. I also assure you of the full backing and support of the government for the Institute’s efforts towards attaining its noble vision and mission.”
The Minister further vowed that the government will do everything within its powers to ensure that local and international partners, philanthropic bodies, wealthy and well-meaning organisations provide support for NIPRD to enable it function optimally.
Speaking earlier, the Director General of NIPRD, Dr. Peter Adigwe, applauded the Minister for the visit.
He used the opportunity to narrate to the Minister the many the challenges NIPRD is faced.
According to him, Despite the great potential the Institute is blessed with, there are still significant challenges.
“For instance, prioritisation and adequate funding of the sector is still suboptimal.
“So far, despite this Administration’s clear policy prioritisation, and marginal support, partners such as philanthropic organisations, and development partners are yet to align to Government’s position.
“I, therefore, wish to use this opportunity to urge all well-meaning individuals and corporate entities to stand up now and be counted amongst Nigeria’s friends.
“Minister Sir, we also expect that given your massive network and immense influence, you will reach out to stakeholders in the aforementioned categories to step up their support for NIPRD’s national Research and Development efforts for COVID-19 and other critical health issues that plague our people,” Dr. Adigwe said.
The NIPRD Director General recalled that in year 2020, the Institute made a considerable contribution to the COVID-19 pandemic response, both within the country and internationally.
“For instance, NIPRD provided the internationally acclaimed analysis that underpinned Government’s categorical position on the Madagascan Covid Organics preparation. This analysis went viral internationally, with scientists and policymakers around the world referencing NIPRD’s seminal work on the product.
“Early last year at the onset of the pandemic, NIPRD pioneered and strongly advocated indigenous manufacturing of hand sanitisers from locally sourced raw materials.
“The Institute notably concept produced its own brand of hand sanitisers and this has gone on to become famous for its high international quality.
“The Institute has also been involved as sponsor, as well as technical partner to a number of ongoing Randomised Control Trials aimed at scientifically proving the efficacy of a number of conventional medicines currently at the Clinical Trials’ phase.
“Furthermore Sir, NIPRD leveraged on its reputation as the first African Institute to develop a world-class phytomedicine from drug discovery up to phase two clinical trials, to begin work on repurposing NIPRIMUNE™, its flagship immunomodulatory agent for relevant clinical studies for COVID-19. Several months after NIPRD’s breakthrough in this area, the Government of Thailand approved the same phytomedicine for the management of COVID-19,” the DG said.
With this facility tour by the minister, the scientists in NIPRD and indeed, all Nigerians are watching keenly to see the steps the government will take in order to improve funding for NIPRD.
It is important to call on well-meaning Nigerians to rally round NIPRD to ensure that Nigeria is placed on the top of the global map in terms pharmaceutical research.