In Nigeria, the battle to accord its citizens full access to healthcare is being prosecuted by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Evidence show that NAFDAC has initiated measures directed at stamping out practices capable of bastardizing the healthcare sector. This is professionally executed by a determined leadership and NAFDAC workforce towards the attainment of sound health goals. However, adequate cooperation and support on the part of the populace is required to make the agency’s efforts a huge success.
NAFDAC’s determination to eliminate counterfeited, substandard, obliterated pharmaceuticals and unwholesome processed foods in line with its enabling legal mandate-Decree 15 of 1993 as amended by Decree 19 of 1999 and currently Act Cap N1 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN)2004 – is, indeed, a worthy engagement in view of the havoc these substances have wreaked on the unsuspecting public.
NAFDAC has continuously adopted initiatives to enlighten Nigerians who will bear the brunt of the prevalence of deadly anti- health substances if left unmonitored.
While the relevance of the agency’s regulatory efforts and the dangers inherent in flooding the nation with counterfeited regulatory products is being made known to the general public on a regular basis, novel rapid response systems aimed at boosting the war against regulated products faking has been intensively adopted.
Recently, a high-powered federal task force on fake and counterfeit drugs cum unwholesome processed foods which gave birth to state task forces was set up.
The taskforces parade members from the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria,the Consumer Protection Council, the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Customs Service and the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Seeing that domestic efforts are insufficient to cage the death merchants, NAFDAC got assistance of the World Health Organization(WHO) which established International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeit Task Force (IMPACT) and gave its vice chairmanship position to Dr Paul Botwev Orhii, NAFDAC director general.
The agency’s efforts on the international scene is yielding dividends as shown in the recent interception of a consignment of counterfeited multi-million naira worth of anti-malaria drugs at a Lagos port whose shippers were apprehended in China by the International Police (INTERPOL) and the United States Federal Drug Agency(USFDA) in collaboration with the Indian and Chinese High Commissions which led to the ‘death sentence’ passed on the suspects.
Another constituted high-powered collaborative team consisting of operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, NAFDAC, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria as well as the Consumer Protection Council recently raided corporate pharmacies in the highbrow Ikoyi and Victoria Island areas of Lagos State in an operation code named “Operation Cobra”. INTERPOL had, prior to the commencement of the exercise, organized a two-day workshop on capacity building and training for the operatives to prepare them for the operation.
The exercise was put together as a joint operation between INTERPOL and seven West African countries viz: Nigeria,Ghana,Guinea,Burkina Faso,Togo,Cameroon and Senegal at the instance of the World Health Organisation’s IMPACT and the Medical Product Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit of the INTERPOL. A similar onslaught tagged “Operation Mamba”was executed in some East African countries viz: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda,Tanzania,Zanzibar and Uganda, last year.
These exercises were not without their benefits. For instance, the Lagos operation led to the arrest of over 30 suspected fake regulated products merchants with voluminous counterfeited pharmaceuticals valued at several millions of naira seized. In all, over one hundred shops were inspected.
While those with fake regulated products were sealed, the numerous and ubiquitous unauthorized drug kiosks and counters found littering the metropolis were dismantled. Also inspected were large pharmacies, wholesale outlets as well as importers warehouses where the agency’s ultra-modern technology-the TRUESCAN machines -was engaged in the verification of their wares.
Now, NAFDAC is said to have commenced arrangements to put in place a rapid alert technique between Nigeria and collaborating countries with the intention of efficiently creating a formidable network towards combating both substandard and counterfeited regulated products.
The internationally celebrated breakthroughs of the agency often did not come on a platter of gold. They came with bloody confrontations, harassment, molestation of the NAFDAC operatives and even destruction of the agency’s operational vehicles by the disgruntled and self-centered health saboteurs.
NAFDAC appears to be working ‘tooth and nail’ and vowing not to rest on it’s oars until a genuine transformation of regulated products distribution system is achieved nationwide, thereby ensuring that only quality and safe products are made available in Nigeria.
Martin Ikhilae is a Lagos based public affairs analyst