INFLUX of substandard medicine and other consumables into markets continues at an alarming rate despite regular media stories over how fake and counterfeit drugs drape many Nigerian households and communities in palls. Sadly no reprieve yet.
IN December 2018, a crack team of operatives of the elite Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IGP-IRT) burst an illegal drug manufacturing factory at Ikotun Egbe, a suburb in Lagos State. Numerous cartons of fake drugs, large quantities of unprocessed chemical substances used in manufacturing the drugs, several machines specially fabricated for processing, manufacturing and packaging the drugs, as well as forged popular pharmaceutical papers and labels were carted away by the detectives.
BUT before then, precisely in April 2018, following a tip-off, another plain-clothes police squad on a discrete operation had uncovered an illegal brewery that specialised in manufacturing malt and stout drinks at Egbe-Afa in Ikorodu, Lagos State. By their estimates, over 1,000 drums of brewed malt and 100 tanks where the drinks were pumped before supplying tankers for distribution were uncovered.
IN A way, this reminds Nigerians of the Late Prof Dora Akunyili’s Kamikaze-style invasion of Onitsha Drug Market at Bridge Head during her time as National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) boss, which to great extent, sanitised the market that was noted for putting out caches of substandard and unwholesome consumables in circulation.
THERE is no gainsaying that many smart alecs have found in this back-stream trade a shortcut to becoming millionaires overnight, even while its overall side-effect chains national economy to slow death. But many Nigerians that fall victim to the unwholesome beverages and pharmaceuticals, who narrowly escape death, are dealt with one permanent physical deformity or another mental disability.
ALTHOUGH experts continue to blame proliferation of the prescription drug market with substances so low in active ingredients or concentrates, or in some cases, totally lacking active ingredients on lassez fairez regulatory frameworks, stakeholders express worry that adulterated drugs are still on the loose in markets like ubiquitous killers.
ACCORDING to Financial Services Advisory Leader and Chief Economist of Project Blue Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Nevin, at least 70 per cent of pharmaceutical products circulating in Nigeria are either totally fake or highly adulterated or substandard. He noted this while delivering a keynote address at the recent 90th Annual National Conference of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) in Umuahia, Abia State, adding that Africa records over 100,000 deaths from fake drug-related ailments every year.
SOME contributors to the discourse have come forward to explain the ‘allure’ in these killer substances as their ridiculously cheap prices which, according to them attract unsuspecting members of the public, who patronise them, even when they get no or little cure from ailments that often become resistant to treatment or worsen to chronic conditions. For instance, if an original analgesic is sold for N50 per sachet and another one is sold at N20, there is a high tendency that an average consumer will settle for the latter.
WE MAY rationalise this against the backdrop of people’s low purchasing power in a voodoo economy that makes money scarce; kills the worth of the little in hand and increases the debts of citizens Nigeria. But it does not immune anyone from the deadly virus it infects.
YET, the question that should be on every lip that values human lives and health is: For how long will this trend go on before enough will be enough?
THAT is why we call on Federal Ministry of Health to expedite action by re-tooling the National Drug Policy and its regulatory instruments to make that agency and other agencies such as NAFDAC, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) and allied bodies close ranks to partner Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) to re-invigorate the fight against fake and unwholesome products.
ALSO, members of the public are enjoined to show more vigilance while ascertaining the quality of substances they patronise for medical treatment. They are urged not to hesitate to give credible intelligence to security, law enforcement and monitoring agencies whenever unusual factories start springing up in their neighborhood or vicinity, even as stiffer penalty regimens should be put in place by government at all levels to deter counterfeit and fake drugs producers.
THEREFORE, we identify with the on-going call for life imprisonment for fake drugs dealers upon conviction; and confiscation of their assets to compensate victims. We therefore expect the National Assembly to accord accelerated hearing to the bill proposing more punitive actions for illicit and falsified drug dealers currently before it from NAFDAC. The situation in which counterfeiting of drugs is punishable by a paltry imprisonment term of between three months to five years, with an option of N100,000 fine, is laughable.
NO rocket science or sci-fi is necessary to track this ignominy and give the country a seamless drug monitoring framework. All it requires is minimum political will that is demonstrated only by an assemblage of the right persons – pharmaceutical scientists and other specialists – to mop vampires that feast on human life and body members from the fake and substandard drug importation and distribution chain. It is not too late; we can still come out of it.