By SOLA OGUNDIPE
AS the SEPTEMBER 1, 2013 deadline elapsed for pharmaceutical companies to fully comply with utilisation of the Mobile Authentication Service, MAS, technology on their regulated products, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, has urged Nigerians not to accept antimalarials and antibiotics without the MAS code on their packs.
Making the call in Lagos during the official launch of the MAS-embedded Postinor 2 – the foremost brand of Emergency Contraceptives, ECs, in Nigeria, Director General, NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, said the Agency has commenced enforcement of the mandatory use of the coding technology.
He noted that it was in the bid to checkmate the antics of counterfeiters and producers of fake Postinor 2 that NAFDAC, in collaboration with the Society for Family Health, SFH, Nigeria, have embedded the product with the MAS coding.
“The health system is compromised by fake drugs with low active ingredients. With this MAS we have put power of detection into the hand of more than 80 million Nigerians who use cell phones. It has been tested and there is proof it works,” said Orhii, with a warning there would be no further extension of the deadline in order to effectively counter activities of fakers of regulated drug products in the country.
“From this September, we are requiring that every antimalarial and antibiotic drugs that are being used in Nigeria must carry the MAS coding technology. Nigerians must go ahead and reject every antimalarial and antibioltic that does not have this technology on it right now.
“We have given enough time. Initially we said the deadline was January 1, 2013, but moved the date because the companies pleaded for more time, but now we cannot move any longer. From now on we will start enforcement activities and wipe out every antimalarial and antibiotic that is not MAS-enabled off the shelves,” he asserted.
It will be recalled that NAFDAC first introduced the MAS in 2011. It is a technology that enables consumers in Nigeria to confirm the authenticity of a drug through a mobile phone by typing a unique 10-digit number hidden under a scratch off panel that comes with the pack of every MAS-enabled drug product and sending as SMS to 38353.
In a few seconds the consumer receives an SMS confirming whether the drug has been approved by NAFDAC. It also confirms the NAFDAC registration number on the product, the manufacturing company and its address, the batch number, date of expiry and a number to call to report any problem.
Orhii, who lamented that in recent times, Postinor 2 had fallen victim to the malicious pranks of counterfeiters of pharmaceutical products causing adverse effects, putting lives at risk and discrediting the product, said the UN identifies Emergency Contraceptives as one of the 13 affordable and effective life-saving commodities under reproductive health. They assist women who may have had unprotected sex to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
“Soon after the launch of the ‘Saving One Million Lives’ initiative by President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja in 2012, there was a surge in the faking of this product, Postinor2. We arrested many of the perpetrators who were trying to manufacture it locally, but they switched to bringing in the packaging materials, knowing that NAFDAC does not regulate packaging materials. This is the new trend.”
The DG, however, said NAFDAC came up with the MAS as a way of stopping the ugly trend. “If a user scratches and is inable to authenticate the product, immediately we would know something is wrong. Now anyone can report and we would know exactly where the problem is.
Lamenting the challenge of tackling the new trend of drug faking and counterfeiting in the country, Orhii said NAFDAC has been continuously looking for ways of stopping the trend.
Describing counterfeiting as a global problem, he said globally there are no laws and restrictions to punish offenders. Nigeria is one of the few countries that have secured prosecution.
Speaking on introduction of the MAS coding for Postinor 2, Enterprise Funds Manager, SFH, Mr. Obinna Nwogu, said the company has gone ahead to ensure that Postinor II has a MAS code so that end users will scratch the product and send a free SMS to the number, whereupon a response is received to verify whether the product is real or fake.
In his view, Managing Director, SFH, Nigeria, Mr Bright Ekweremadu described MAS coding for Postinor 2 as “a giant step in strengthening trust and a great show of positive consideration to all users of the product.”
Emergency contraceptives assist women who may not have used a contraceptive during sex to prevent unplanned pregnancy. It is also very important in cases of rape and in conflict prone situations where regular contraceptives are unavailable or inaccessible.