The menace of counterfeit products

The recent disclosure that over 70 per cent of pharmaceutical products circulating in Nigeria are counterfeit and substandard should cause the populace sleepless nights.

The state of affairs is like pronouncing a death sentence on all and sundry considering the obvious health implications. Andrew Nevin, the Financial Services Advisory Leader and Chief Economist, Project Blue PWc Nigeria, made the startling revelation in his keynote address at the opening of the 90th Annual National Conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) holding in Umuahia. Nevin further revealed that Africa records at least 100,000 deaths, arising from fake drug-related ailments, annually.

He noted that substandard medicine trade was the greatest evil against public health as well as an act of economic sabotage. He charged the federal government, National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other relevant agencies to intensify the war against fake drugs in the country, noting that it would go a long way in reducing the harmful effects of the menace on the citizenry and the nation’s economy.

 Some other stakeholders at the event also stressed the urgent need for NAFDAC to continue to take action in multiple areas to create a comprehensive system to better tackle the menace.

They urged the federal government to urgently appoint a substantive helmsman to enable the agency to move forward. In his speech to declare the week-long event open, governor of the state, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, also tasked NAFDAC to check the perceived abuse in the certification of traditional medicines. Ikpeazu called on the agency to withdraw its stamp of authority from all producers of herbal medicines whose efficacy it cannot vouch for. Raising the alarm over the increase in the number of traditional medicines in the area, he said: “I am worried at the use of herbal drugs. NAFDAC has not helped matters also.

 It is amazing to see different concoctions with labels from NAFDAC and to an average Nigerian, once you see NAFDAC number on a product, it means a seal of authority.” He appealed to the federal government to regulate the importation of drugs as a means of encouraging indigenous pharmaceutical firms.

He also urged drug manufacturers in the country to take steps to make their products affordable to the ordinary Nigerian. In an address of welcome, the National President of PSN, Ahmed Yakasai, said that the association had embarked on an advocacy for the local manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. Yakasai, however, stressed the need for government at all levels to create the enabling environment for the pharmaceutical sector in Nigeria to thrive, adding that “PSN believes in Nigeria-made medicines.”

The major highlights of the conference were the conferment of awards to some eminent Nigerians, including Ikpeazu, the unveiling of new products and products exhibition. Andrew Nevin’s alarm was coming on the heels of the raids carried out by officials of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) on some warehouses, shops, residential houses in different parts of Lagos that were stocked with unwholesome products.

For instance, a four-storey building located in a densely-populated area of Kirikiri town, Lagos, had clothes on lines in the balconies as a ploy to avoid suspicion when it was actually warehouses for expired products, which are repackaged as new. The discovery by the officials of the SON following a tip-off by members of the public was shocking as all sorts of cosmetics and household consumables were found in the flats, which had expired many years ago.

Conducting journalists round the building, SON Director of Monitoring and Compliance, Engr. Bede Obayi, said: “We acted on the intelligence we received from well-meaning Nigerians. You can see the volume of expired products here and imagine the implications for our society in terms of health issues.”

 Fake drugs are so deadly and are widely believed to be responsible for treatment failures, organ dysfunction/damage, worsening of chronic disease conditions and even death. Small wonder, hardly does a day pass by without television stations showing victims in need of assistance to handle health challenges like kidney failure, liver damage, etc.

 While we commend the efforts of the various regulating agencies in combating the menace of counterfeit and expired drugs, we urge members of the public who are the direct victims of these nefarious activities to pay more attention to the products they buy and to report any suspicion of alteration of the expiry dates to the appropriate authorities. Prevention, it is said, is better than cure.

An aggressive public enlightenment campaign should also be launched by NAFDAC, SON and other stakeholders to sensitise Nigerians to the danger of overlooking the expiry dates on all products they buy. Importers and marketers of killer products should face severe punishments like death penalty. Those who kill also deserve to be killed.

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