By Chioma Obinna
Efforts by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to stamp out fake drugsÂ from Nigeria may still be far from eradicatingÂ the scourge, no thanks to tactics of counterfeiters to beat the regulators.
Confrimed reports have it that Nigeria ranks 15 out 17 regional pharmaceutical markets in the Middle East and Africa, as a result of high level of counterfeiting, poor healthcare funding and â€œendemicâ€ corruption, while unconfirmed reports show that counterfeits make up around 40 per cent of the overall Nigerian drug market, estimated to grow from $633 million at present to $778 million over the next five years, assisted byÂ rapid increase in Nigeriaâ€™s population.
What worries many Nigerians is that withÂ NAFDAC hot on their trail, these counterfeitersÂ are not resting on their oars and are getting smarter by the day, making fake drugs to look like the real thing, though containing only traceÂ amounts of active ingredientsÂ as a way of fooling the consumers into thinking they are getting better.
Another disturbing aspect is that, in Nigeria today, any new security features for packaging lasts no more than about 18 months before counterfeitersÂ perfect the imitation. For instance, counterfeits now carry holograms and other security features to make the packaging look as authentic as the genuine thing.
But NAFDAC and otherÂ law enforcement officials including legitimate drug manufacturers are responding with newer and more sophisticated security approaches. The latest in this line is the introduction ofÂ fake drug detecting device called Truscan. This is a hand-heldÂ equipment that can instantly determine if a drug is genuine or fake without the need to send samples to the laboratory. Each unit cost about 50,000 US dollars.
Apparently, to make good its threat that hard times await counterfeiters, thanks to theÂ new device, the Agencyâ€™s officials was able to conduct on- the- spot analysisÂ last week in Lagos, leading toÂ impoundingÂ of a shipment of a brand of anti-malarial drug, Lonart at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. The street value of the consignment was estimated at N100 million.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians would have consumed the fake drug which is believed to have been circulated.
Currently, to beef up surveillance, NAFDAC has begun to crack down on the illicit trade and has been systematically closing down pharmaceutical outlets dealing in fake drugs.
The anti malarial drugs, which comprises 10,000 sachets of six tablets each of Lonart DS packed in green woven polyethene sacks were concealed within bags and shoes covered with blankets, were detected with the novel Truscan.
Details of the product which was purported to have been manufactured by Bliss GVS Pharma Limited at 10 Dewan UdyogÂ Hagar, Aliyalui, Palghar, India are: Batch NumberÂ LD-64, manufacturing date 02/2009,Â expiry date 01/2011. On examinationÂ Truscan showed theÂ drug containedÂ only corn starch and corn meal.
Already,Â suspects which include the importer, clearing agent and a driver have been arrested while a Naval rating who was to escort the consignment is at large.
The main suspect, one Ugo Best – the importer alleged to have abandoned the consignment on sighting NAFDAC officials, is believed to be resident in Kano but has been brought to Lagos for further interrogation.
Pointing out the differences between the fake and original Lonart DS,Â Deputy Director In- Charge, Ports Inspectorate Directorate, Mrs. Elizabeth Awagu explained that inscribed on the genuine pack is NAFDAC registration No. 049927 stamped with blue ink on the sachet while the same number is printed on the sachet with no â€œREGâ€ after the word NAFDAC.Â â€œBGâ€ is embossed on the tablet while â€œGVSâ€ is embossed on the fake tablet. Lonart and the broad band on the face of the packet are deep purple in colour while Lonart and the broad band on the packet of the fake are in lighter shades of purple(amour pink).
When the tablet of the genuine is broken into two, the inside is yellow while the tablet of the fake when broken into two the inside is white.â€
However, health watchers are of the view that NAFDACâ€™s current porous law gives room for manipulation by unscrupulous elements to the detriment of consumers of regulated products.