JAKARTA: Member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are forging a way to become self-reliant on vaccines and medicines to the Islamic nations as representatives of their respective heads of national medicine regulatory authorities are meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the first time.
Penny Lukito, chairwoman of Indonesia’s National Agency of Drug and Food Control, said the first-ever meeting, which was called by Indonesia and kicked off on Wednesday, was timely since the dire health situation due to the lack of access to medicines and vaccines in some Islamic countries is worrying, especially in the least developing ones and those mired in conflicts.
“The capacity and ability of pharmaceutical industries in the Islamic world to produce essential medicines and vaccines are still at low proportions,” Lukito said in her opening speech. “We can’t let this situation continue unabated.”
This meeting, therefore, serves as a platform to identify gaps and opportunities for improving medicines' regulatory capacity, promoting public health and how to advance the pharmaceutical industry in OIC countries, said OIC Assistant Secretary-General for Science and Technology, Muhammad Naeem Khan.
“Overdependence on imported medicine and vaccines has had an adverse impact on the provision of health care in some OIC countries, including the refusal by some communities to use such medicines and vaccines,” Khan said in his opening remarks.
“It has also made many member states vulnerable to counterfeit and substandard medicines,” he added.
President of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority Hisham Saad Aljadhey said the outcome of this meeting will be very fruitful for individuals living in OIC countries in terms of availability and safety of medication.
“We have issues such as high prices of medication and building capacity," Aljadhey told Arab News on the sidelines of the two-day meeting. "We need to build a medicine regulatory agency within OIC countries which will focus on guidelines in accordance with the international ones and include good manufacturing practices for medication, review of scientific evidence, and to follow up on the safety of the product.”
Of the 57 OIC member states, only seven are vaccine producers and only a few produce export-quality medicines, while many countries, including the least developed ones -– many of whom are OIC member states -– still have to rely heavily on imported vaccines and medicines.
Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Osama bin Mohammed Al-Shuaibi said Islamic countries need to collaborate on vaccine products because there are halal and non-halal vaccines, and vaccines would have to be approved by the ulema council.
However, he said Islam is very open and even if the medicine is not halal, people should take it to prevent death or illness to themselves and others.
“You can’t say this is not halal and your child is dead. This meeting will build more trust between Islamic countries to start producing their own medicines which are halal, if there is only a non-halal one. We try to find something halal, but if there is not, we have to have the medicine, whatever it is,” he told Arab News.
Febrian Ruddyard, the director general for multilateral cooperation at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, said the meeting would produce a joint statement dubbed the Jakarta Declaration, which reaffirms the OIC countries’ commitment to strengthen the regulatory framework on medicines and vaccines.
“Health problems could disperse and cause other problems if we don’t regulate them. We can’t be healthy on our own. We have to stay healthy together,” he said.