When Fidson Healthcare Plc was established 20 years ago, Ayebae states that he envisioned the scale of his venture to be as expansive as it is today. “Absolutely from day one, when we formed the vision for the entire business, [we knew] we were going to have a plant that was WHO certified and that would manufacture across all therapeutic ranges. We started with a seed money that was barely two and a half million dollars in 1995 and through our own working capital we were able to pool together all that was needed to invest 40 million dollars.”
One of the key issues Ayebae and his team have had to tackle is that of fake drugs. The trading of counterfeit medicine has plagued Nigeria and many other African countries for years and many citizens purchase drugs without being aware that the product is fake.
Ayebae outlines the reality of the situation and what is being done to tackle the problem: “The unfortunate thing is that the borders [around Nigeria] are very poor and these products do find their way in. My take is that about 40 percent of what we consume today are locally manufactured and 60 percent are imported. [Once we] improve the factories, provide financing and tackle infrastructural issues, all of this will change.”
To counter this, Fidson Healthcare is aiming to invest more money in manufacturing life-saving drugs which would usually be imported. “We opened this facility, which is the newest and best in terms of standards, because we’re [focusing on] critical care products. We have an infusion plant here where we can [manufacture] anything and everything from morphines to oxytocins to blood plasma. As we scale up, we’ll go from just manufacturing branded generics to critical care products,” Ayebae summarises.
Asher asks how Ayebae’s company competes with importers when it comes to malaria drugs as many Nigerians choose imported drugs, which Ayebae estimates to cost three times more for the consumer, over locally made medicine. “Locally manufactured malaria drugs are much cheaper [than imported drugs] but most people don’t realise that it’s not the cost of the product that makes the quality. Most imported products have billed quite a bit of equity through all manners of incentives to hospitals and doctors, so these brands have become more expensive,” Ayebae explains.
Fidson Healthcare aims to compete which foreign brands, which Ayebae refers to as the “bane of Africa”, by targeting the same medical institutions. Ayebae describes why hospitals need to embrace locally manufactured drugs: “We’re trying to extend our reach directly to hospitals and doctors where they are beginning to accept [Made in Nigeria] brands. Countries, especially Nigeria, must realise that pharmaceuticals are security items. No country in the world can sustain provision for healthcare for our people without local manufacturing.”
The drug manufacturing industry faces another threat: automation. This could affect many workers who are currently employed by companies like Fidson Healthcare. Ayebae acknowledges this as something which may have to happen in the future: “There is a lot of pressure… You don’t get to automate the packaging of a product until you have the right volumes. When you have the right demand, that is when you automate.”