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Combating fake drugs with technology

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Counterfeiting and faking of drugs and food substances have assumed a global industry status, so also are the worries and concerns over the development. Particularly for Nigeria, the challenge has been the impetus needed to frontally and aggressively confront the menace. To the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Nigeria’s health boosting agency, falls that responsibility. The efforts of the Dr. Paul B. Orhii-led agency, especially its deployment of cutting edge technologies to fight and win the anti-counterfeit drugs war, have gained global recognition.

Take Truscan for instance, NAFDAC’s successful deployment of this technology brought it to global consciousness. There are also Black Eye and Radio Frequency Identification system (RFID). I hasten to add the Mobile Authentication Service (MAS), the world’s first anti-counterfeiting contraption which uses the SMS platform. Orhii is enthralled by MAS, especially for its cost effectiveness and immediacy of result. The programme involves the packaging of drugs with a scratch card placed on drug packs from the point of manufacture. When scratched, the hidden codes revealed on the packs could be sent free of charge via SMS to 38353 on the MTN, Zain and Globalcom networks. Shortly afterwards, the sender will receive a reply confirming whether the product is genuine or not.

Fantastic you will say! What it means is that NAFDAC may finally have succeeded in placing the responsibility of detecting counterfeit drugs in the hands of Nigeria’s over 114 million mobile phone subscribers. It will thrill you to no end to know that the agency is applauded globally as the world’s first drug regulatory authority to deploy and use hand-held devices at borders for on-the-spot detection of counterfeit medicines with resounding successes!

File photo: Fake drugs about to be destroyed.
File photo: Fake drugs about to be destroyed.

While MAS may be a first choice because of its mass involvement appeal, Black Eye, Radio Frequency Identification system and TRUSCAN equally have their own attractions. Black Eye has the capacity to screen multiple drug samples at the same time. This is how it goes: It compares a tablet that you are trying to check and tell you whether it is genuine or fake; and if you ask from the machine, it will break the product down into its active pharmaceutical ingredients; if counterfeited, it could reveal the inactive pharmaceutical ingredients. It is a ready tool in the hands of NAFDAC’s operatives because it can take up to 1000 different tablets at the same time and break them down and tell you which one is good or bad.

The Radio Frequency Identification system has the ability to track and trace regulated foods and medicines and also prevent the forgery of sensitive documents.

So much is the public confidence in the technology-driven war against counterfeit and fake drugs and food items in Nigeria by NAFDAC that critical stakeholders in the sector are ready to throw in everything and synergise with the agency to win the war. Removing the burden of tariff payment from consumers of the drug is a veritable incentive for its use. And so, key stakeholders in the sector, the drug manufacturers, have come to the aid of consumers by accepting to fund it although it is currently  applicable to malaria drugs and antibiotics, being products most cloned and adulterated by the murderous counterfeiters. The NAFDAC has assured that efforts are also on to extend the service to other general purpose drugs.

MAS guarantees befitting and enduring positive corporate image for pharmaceutical companies and their products, thus ensuring high level product patronage with the attendant high revenue yield for such firms. For pharmaceutical companies that are reluctant to key into the strategy because of their perceived cost implications, they might have placed higher premiums on profitability than the lives of their customers which amount to being unpatriotic.

Let me say unequivocally that Orhii’s ongoing revolution in NAFDAC has succeeded in placing Nigeria in the league of serious countries of the world ready to do anything to protect their people from the merchants of death that drug counterfeiters have become.

*Ikhilae is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst.  Email:

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