NAFDAC, COUNTERFEITING AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Sometime in 2005, a friend took ill at workplace in one of the federal parastatals in Lagos and had to visit the Staff Clinic. An experienced doctor after thoroughly examining him put his finger on the cause of his sickness by correctly diagnosing malaria. The doctor prescribed an anti-malaria drug, Halfan, for treatment and because the medicine was out of stock in the clinic's Pharmacy, the patient was asked to procure it outside. As a matter of fact, the doctor specifically asked him to ensure that he buys from a particular pharmaceutical store in Apapa, where he was at least sure of the authenticity of the drug. Our dear friend on the contrary decided to patronize a pharmacy in his neighbourhood. This singular decision nearly cost him his life: for the next three months, he found himself in hospital gravely sick and passing out blood in his urine. According to another doctor who handled his case, his kidneys were almost damaged by the drug he took to cure his malaria, which turned out to be fake. Our friend survived but he was just one of the few lucky ones!
This story captures vividly the dangers that our people face every day as they go about procurement of prescription and non-prescription drugs. Some innocent citizens have had their lives cut down in mid trajectory just in search of good health or in the seeming treatment of a simple ailment. However this is where the performance of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) has become a game changer. Nobody can seriously deny the fact that NAFDAC was brought into national consciousness by the impressive performance of the former Director General, the late Dora Akunyili. So eye-catching was her performance that doubts began to grow if her successor would be able to fit into her supposedly big shoes. But, any such doubts have long been consigned to the waste bins with the appointment of Paul Botwev Orhii as NAFDAC DG in 2009.
The incumbent chief executive of NAFDAC has simply taken the organisation to the next gear especially in three major areas namely; fighting drug counterfeiting, promotion of public health and the growth of local drug manufacturing. By employing the use of cutting edge technologies, Orhii has taken the fight against the wicked drug counterfeiters, as it is said, to their own home turf. And with each passing day, he is squeezing life out of the merchants of death and putting them out of their nefarious and very deadly business. Thus consumers can verify the authenticity of the medicine or food they are about to purchase immediately by simply sending a text message via a mobile phone in the very store they are.
The beauty of the Mobile Authentication System (MAS) is such that it places the power of identifying the wholesomeness or otherwise of a particular drug or food in the very hands of the consumer. This entails the use of scratch card placed on the pack of a drug or can of food and sending a short code on MTN, Glo or Celtel networks. Guess what? It works like magic as the consumer will there and then receive a reply indicating that the item is genuine or not. How one wishes our dear friend who nearly died after swallowing a few tablets of Halfan had the privilege of this scientific and self-operating method of drug and food authentication!
There is also the Regulated Products Verification Programme (RPVP) a product of one of the many NAFDAC's collaborations with other organisations. This system can also help consumers to authenticate the product at the point of purchase. They can text, browse or call to verify the scratched off electronic product code or use the in-store instant sensor station for scanning. In any pharmacy where the electronic trays are installed, when drugs are placed on it a red beep signifies a fake product while a green beep confirms the product as authentic.
The third anti-counterfeiting device admirably introduced by NAFDAC is the hand-held Truscan device, which aids on-the-spot testing of drugs and food products, to verify how genuine they are without recourse to the conventional laboratory. The beauty of this device is that it can detect fake drugs and food products right at the ports of entry and in no small measures has helped NAFDAC in checkmating the dangerous and unpatriotic activities of counterfeiters.
Generally, with these cutting edge technologies NAFDAC clearly have beaten fake drug peddlers and manufacturers to their own game. Not only has the policing role NAFDAC significantly improved, the old method of closing down businesses based on suspicions and other whimsical nuances has given way to a more scientific and effective way of tracking counterfeiting in the country.
It is also to the credit of NAFDAC under Orhii that many of the indigenous pharmaceutical companies that have been lying comatose because of the flooding of the country with imported substandard drugs are back to full business with all its positive implications on the economy of the country. By operating at full or near-full capacity, these companies are not only now running on profits and creating investor prosperity but also reducing the rate of unemployment in the country. Even then, the greater dividends are located in the improving healthcare delivery and the general wellbeing of our people. It is now becoming more apparent that many of the deaths attributed to wrong diagnoses and perhaps negligence in our hospitals in the past indeed bear a direct nexus with administration of counterfeit drugs.
Those who know the current NAFDAC boss, with his very rich background of international experience and connections are, however, not surprised with the sterling performance that he is posting on his job. This can only explain why President Goodluck Jonathan did not really vacillate about rewarding him with a second term in office. That Orhii is quietly grinding out huge achievements without unnecessary controversies and orchestrated media attention speaks of a much focused public servant! One hopes that he will deploy his renewed tenure to come up with more innovations about emplacing an entirely wholesome medicine regime in Nigeria and thus consolidate on the good job he began in his first tenure. The ball is certainly in Orhii's court.
Written by Josephine Babatunde.