The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has accused China and India of being responsible for the fake drugs in Nigeria. The Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, disclosed this recently and announced the agency’s readiness to eliminate substandard and falsified medicines through partnerships with pre-shipment agents in China and India.
It is laudable that the agency is concerned about the proliferation of fake drugs and aiming to address it from the source – over 70% of drugs in Nigeria are imported from China and India. However, many points should be addressed in this war against fake drugs and current approach being adopted by NAFDAC. Firstly, pre-shipment checks are not new and have not been able to stem the entry of counterfeit drugs into the country.
NAFDAC assures the nation that they have visited China and India and “read the riot act to the pre-shipment agencies being used” and therefore expect to get better analyses and checks going forward. This action is necessary, constructive, and good.
However, it does not instill much confidence as a solution. It brings up a second point: Why is NAFDAC, a regulatory agency with jurisdiction in Nigeria, involving itself primarily with trying to regulate the effectiveness of pre-shipment checks in a foreign country, as a way to stop fake drugs from being sold within Nigeria to the average citizen? We wonder how the fake drugs pass through our customs and regulatory checks at the port and end up in retail stores, kiosks, and roadside peddlers across the country, which is where citizens get access to these fake drugs.
Plugging this hole seems like a more significant action to invest in because it is directly within the control of NAFDAC. It compels us to ask some questions. What is happening at our ports which are usually filled with security agents? Does NAFDAC not have the tools and officials required to conduct thorough and adequate inspections? Or do we have compromised officials right here on our shores? It seems we should read the riot act and clean up at home in tandem with attempts to resolve issues with pre-shipment agents in foreign countries.
This leads to another disturbing point which if we want to get to the source of the fake drug problem, needs to be addressed before expending more energy and resources in trying to “fix” pre-shipment agents in China and India. We must address the issue of our importers who through deliberate and criminal intent, instigate and collaborate with foreign manufacturers to produce substandard and fake drugs in the first place! Some unscrupulous Nigerian importers have been known to ask foreign manufacturers to produce lower quality or counterfeit drugs in a bid to drive down costs and have higher profit margins! If some of our importers do not have the moral compass to import authentic, quality drugs, then we need to address this as a matter of priority.
If it means legislating on the immediate destruction of shipments containing fake or substandard drugs, and a ban or prosecution of importers linked to such shipments, as a deterrent to other importers, then so be it. There is evidence that stringent enforcement of legislation is an effective intervention for ensuring the quality of medicines. In Nigeria, from 2001 to 2006, a renewed political will, higher fines, and enforcements led to an estimated 80% drop in substandard and falsified medicines.
We remember the glorious years of Dr. Akunyili who declared war on fake drugs and took the battle to the doorsteps of the major culprits. It is on record that she fought the cabal to a standstill. Unfortunately, it seems we also have a nascent and concurrent issue of fake drugs being manufactured within our borders! In makeshift labs and warehouses in cities across the country, there are people in the business of repackaging pharmaceuticals, changing expiry dates. There are some who manufacture counterfeit drugs from the scratch. There is also concern that there may be more of this in the coming months because of the effect Covid-19 has had on the supply of drugs in Nigeria.
There are shortages of both critical and essential medicines. The truth is that this issue of fake drugs in Nigeria is not new. NAFDAC deployed specific strategies to combat the menace in the early 2000s and made laudable strides. So it is not impossible to put an end to this scourge and killer known as “fake drugs” if we do the right things. We therefore call on NAFDAC and security agencies to rise to the challenge of fake drugs and take some serious steps within our borders. Citizens are also encouraged to report incidents of fake drugs to the appropriate authorities. Once there is the will there will be a way!