What is the background of Roche's operations in Nigeria?
We do business in pharmaceutical, diagnostics, and diabetes care. We were registered in 2013 and are one of the few in Africa that we call a full buy-and-sell affiliate. Our operations are end-to-end; we bring in our medication and transfer them directly at the most accessible prices to teaching hospitals and centers of excellence. Over the years, the niche area we are working in has been cancer. Roche might not be that well-known because we are not heavily involved in general medicine but rather in highly specialized medication. This is also why we do not have production plants in Nigeria, as our medications—what we call biologics—interact at some level with genetic pools or DNA, so we need to be careful about the quality of the products we bring in. The level of manufacturing in Nigeria has not reached that stage yet. Production localization, however, is something we are considering for the longer term.
How can healthcare services and products be made affordable to all Nigerians?
It requires us all to encourage all citizens to get health insurance, whether privately or with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). In a country of 200 million, we cannot have just 4-5% of the population covered by insurance. If state or national health insurance had millions of people enrolled, they could negotiate with organizations like ours to obtain medications or services at a certain price. Today, we do not have that power because enrolment is extremely low. Other African countries have begun to increase enrolments to health insurance. In Kenya, almost 40% of the population is enrolled, in Ghana about 50%, so we need an insurance enrolment drive in order to expand the accessibility and affordability of our products.
What is needed to reverse the trend of outbound medical tourism?
The major reasons for people seeking treatments abroad is the availability of services, accurate diagnosis, and the right atmosphere and environment for them to access care. The higher the enrolment in health insurance, the more funds there will be in healthcare to build the kinds of hospitals that we need. We have exceptional Nigerian doctors working all over the world because of inadequate pay, the poor environment, and an unavailability of options here. That is all due to funding. We cannot continue to expect the government to build hospitals, buy equipment, and pay healthcare professionals. This is completely unrealistic. When we have enough funds within the health insurance schemes, hospitals will receive enough funds to upgrade. As a consequence, fewer doctors and patients will leave Nigeria, as everything they need will be available here.
What trends are you seeing in the pharmaceutical and healthcare market, and what opportunities will be your areas of focus going forward?
Medical tourism is truly the biggest trend, which is concerning as it does not seem to be stopping. In fact, it seems to be growing more, and those of us in the healthcare space need to be more deliberate about what we need to do to change that. That is why projects like the Cancer Health Fund are so unique. It is not a fund to buy equipment or build a hospital; it is a fund to pay for services. If the manufacturer of equipment knows that payment for their services is available, then they have no worries about bringing their services to the table. Furthermore, a number of medical practitioners are investing large sums of money into the country's healthcare sector, but they need more support. There are certain fertility treatments or cancer centers that are privately owned, and they should be supported by ensuring their services are patronized and can be paid for, and they do not have to rely only on the top echelons of society that can afford this care. Healthcare is everyone's right. We need to ensure high-quality healthcare for every other person as much as possible.