Dr Paul Botwev Orhii, is the Director General (DG) of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
He was honoured last Tuesday in Lagos , by the Texas Southern University Alumni Association, his Alma Mata and an award of Excellence was presented to him by the President John Rudley from the United States of America .
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he relished his desire to stamp out counterfeiting of drugs in the country and consolidate on the efforts made by his predecessor, Professor Dora Akunyili.
The Benue state born DG, lamented the porous nature of the nationâ€™s borders and disclosed the various strategies that would be applied to check the activities of counterfeiters in the borders, just as he urged the National Assembly to enact a law which would hand stiff penalties to fake counterfeit drug dealersÂ Â to serve as deterrent to others. He spoke on his visions and missions for the Agency and other issues.
How doÂ you feel about this honour?
I feel very happy obviously. It is great to be recognized by your own school after graduatingÂ and they come back to honour you. I feel very great.
How about your new job?
Obviously, the honour told me that they also appreciate the modest effort that I am making at my new job, otherwise they would not have come to appreciate me . One thing is to pass an exam and another thing is to be able to apply the knowledge in the field.
I think having seen how I performed in the last six months, they have decided to come and proudly associate themselves with me and I think that is an indirect endorsement at what I am doing at my job. But I particularly feel good that my lauded effort in trying to keep Nigeria safe is being recognized this way.
Do weÂ know some of those things you have been doing since you came on board?
When I came to NAFDAC, you know I inherited a very big shoe, you know that my predecessor was a great performer and she was acknowledged both internationally and nationally. Just fitting into her shoes and taking over the activities of NAFDAC without missing the heart beat is a great achievement itself becauseÂ before I took over,Â thereÂ were peopleÂ wondering if there is any bodyÂ who could stepÂ into her shoes and perform the way she did. But with her support, with the support of Nigerians, the media, I came into her shoes and performed. Now it looks like I might be wearing a bigger shoe because my feet are growing fast.
When I came to NAFDAC,Â I said I was not only going to continue to build on what has been achieved in NAFDAC since its inception, that I was also going to improve on what IÂ met .
That is what I am doing right now. You must have noticed that I have established contact with the United States of America , with other countries and we are working together in the training of my staff. WHO right now is here training our staff in Jos on Good Manufacturing Practices (GNP) inspections. There are so many things we are doing.
I have continued with the anti-counterfeiting combat in this country especially inÂ medical products. Nigeria is actually now heading the global effort in using the cutting-edge technologies in anti-counterfeiting technology. So I think we are doing very fine, there are so many other things we are doing, but you will see the result very soon.
Talking about drug counterfeiting, when Professor Dora was there as DG of NAFDAC, there was this vigorous war against counterfeiting of drugs, but since you came back it looks like the effort has simmered down, what is the problem?
It has actually not simmered down. When I came I have seized so many consignments of fake drugs intended for Nigerian markets. You must have heard us seizing many consignments of fake drugs at the borders and you will also notice that counterfeiting has become more sophisticated. Gone are the days where you could just chase them out of the market and take them off.
You will notice that the packaging of a counterfeit product has become more sophisticated, it is difficult now to dictate the difference between the counterfeit and the real product. Our borders are porous but we are devising new methods at dictating counterfeits and trying to get counterfeits out of the market. First of all, we are building international coalitions, at the global level, at the continental level; at the regional level we are building international coalitions.
I am now very active in what we call IMPACTF, that is the International Medical Product Anti Counterfeiting Task Force, at the World Health Organization made of about 193 member states. At the regional level, we are working with the West African sub region to build what we call West African Drug Law Enforcement Agency Network (WADLEAN).
And right now, I am trying to follow the US example ofÂ stationing our staff in countries where most of our regulated products are manufactured. We monitor the factories that manufactureÂ the products, and that gives us advance information.
We are entering into information sharing arrangement with other countries like the United States of America , who will also give advance information about the products that are intended forÂ the Nigeria market so that we know where to wait and intercept them.
If all that fails and still we haveÂ some counterfeit products coming into the Nigerian market, at the borders we are purchasing new equipment. I have gone into arrangement with some American firms, some body from there is even waiting for me in Abuja right now, to purchase cutting aid technology, what we call Ramat petro-meter from the US .
Even the US food and drug administration does not have it yet, but they are going to sell that to us. In this case, you will dictate counterfeit product right on the spot so you do no have to wait for Lab analysis. We want to also purchase some new equipment from Israel .
I just met them in Singapore recently and they demonstrated the product and they are coming here to demonstrate the product again and we intend to purchase them to be able to dictate counterfeit at the border. We are training our staff to be more competent in dictating counterfeit.
If that fails and they still make it through the borders, then in the market, we have developed, and we hope that by the end of the year, we have in place a system that you can use a text message, just take a product, put a code into your phone, take it out and within seconds, you will get a response as to whether the product has been registered by NAFDAC, the expiration date, the manufacturer and such information like that.
By doing that, we have put the power of dictating counterfeiting in the hand of consumers themselves, also enlisting the consumer to join us in the war against counterfeit. That will also help us to know where the counterfeits are coming from.
We are going to put up a programme where we will be able to document incidents of people sending messages of product failure through text and that will enable me every morning to look at my computer, look at the graph I have plottedÂ and see which drug is mostly counterfeited, which market, which particular store is involved in that counterfeiting so I can direct my strike forces, specifically to that area where the counterfeits are.
We also have adopted another strategy to fight counterfeit. What we want to do is to compete with the counterfeit in the market by actively encouraging the use of generic medicines which are sold at a fraction ofÂ the cost of the brand.
I just learnt that the United States of America byÂ encouraging its people to use generic medicines are saving more than five hundred billion dollars a year.
We intend to do that for Nigerian markets too so that they will compete effectively with the genuine products which are by equivalent to the brand, will compete effectively with the counterfeit in the market.
And the counterfeiterÂ when he does not make that huge profit,Â may be forced out of the market. But if he is not forced out of the market, we have other methods ofÂ actively collaborating with the private sector to build hubs where all the drugs that are going into the market will be checked for quality and safety and the place willÂ be manned by qualified pharmacists.
I have commissioned one of such hubs in Abuja already. Our partners promised me that they will build similar hubs around the country, at least in the six geo-political regions, particularly at the Onitsha bridge head market and the Kano market which has become so notorious with drug counterfeiting right now.
After this hub has been built, we will be able to encourage drugsÂ to move into the hubs because they can pass the quality testÂ that will expose the counterfeiters. Then, we can now strike on them and wipe them out of the system.
So these are some of things we are doing. And very soon, we will be inviting the 774 Local Government Chairmen in this country to come together to Abuja , so that we can empower them to help us police drug hawking, because drug hawking is chaotic and its distribution network is a big problem in this country. So if we empower the chairmen, they will help us to police them in their own locality. We will be organizing competitions to see which chairman has been able to police them effectively in their own regions.
And if that all still fails, you know at each stage we hope that some counterfeiters will drop because they will lose incentives. But if all that fails and the counterfeiters are still in the market, then we are now doing a public enlightenment campaign to be able to chase them out of the business.
One of the reasons why counterfeiting strives is the fact that the potential for profit is so huge and yet when they are caught the punishment is really so small. Right now we are increasing the possibility that they will be caught, we are reducing their profit margin and at the level of the law, we are reviewing the law to give it more teeth.
We want the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Justice to enact laws that will impose severe penalties against counterfeiters to serve as a deterrent to others.
We hope that all these measures if they are well implemented will reduce the incidence of counterfeits to the barest minimum.
The opportunity that we have here is that in advance countries like the US, every body has access to internet, even when they have very good border patrol and robust regulatory authorities,Â the internet is still providing an opportunity for counterfeiters to go and reach consumers who are altering medicines through the internet.
Nigeria is not there yet, but we hope that if we can implement all these measures ,we will have a better chance of eliminating counterfeitsÂ in Nigeria.
But we still have Local Medical practitioners who deal on herbal medicines.How are you going to check their activities because we are aware that their products do not have NAFDAC numbers?
We want to even encourage local manufacturing of medicines here. Infact right now, the GNP training that the WHO is giving to our staff in Jos, is geared towards improving our local medicine manufacturers to world standard.
We want to be able to build our own locally manufactured medicines to a point where the international community can import from us and donate it to other countries. That will help to increase the technical capabilities of our own localÂ manufacturers and also provide job opportunities for people.