Orhii: Fighting Drug Counterfeiting Getting Dangerous

31 Aug 2013

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Dr. Paul Orhii

Fighting adulteration of drugs is getting more dangerous and difficult with the entry of former hard drug dealers into the fake medicine business but NAFDAC’s Director-general, Dr. Paul Orhii, tells journalists how he is tackling this and other challenges. Patrick Ugeh who was there, brings excerpts

Aow my administration is different…
“When I came to the agency in January 2009, first and foremost, I said I would build on what I found on ground and next I said I’d like to take it to the next level, to bring international standards to bear so that NAFDAC will be comparable to international food and drug regulatory agencies anywhere in the world like the US, Canada and Britain. First and foremost, even the desire to build on what I found on the ground is unusual in Nigeria history. Often, you run down your predecessor and even begin to demolish some of the structures you met on ground, even sack some of the staff hired by your predecessor and hire new staff to start again, which I think has not been helpful to us. There are no institutions. Whatever happens depends on personalities and once the person leaves, everything is destroyed and we start all over again. So, building on what I met on ground was a good strategy and I think that’s the way agencies should be run, institutions, not personalities.

Using public enlightenment …
We built on the strengths I met, like the public enlightenment. We tried to fine-tune them and expand them. For example, we made our public enlightenment more focused and more educational. We have radio and television programmes. We concentrated on our drug safety clubs in secondary schools. Now, we have worked with the Ministry of Education to build NAFDAC activities into secondary school curricula. So, these are things that we expanded. On infrastructure, the laboratories that I found on ground, I decided to upgrade them, to refurbish some of them that were already decaying. For example, Agulu laboratory that my predecessor started, which is uncompleted, we completed it during my administration. In 2010, the president was there to commission it himself. We upgraded the Oshodi laboratory to international standard and is undergoing WHO accreditation. We also refurbished and upgraded the Yaba laboratory to international standard. Right now it is undergoing international certification. The Kaduna laboratory that has been burnt down since 2004, we rebuilt it and is now of international standard and we are about to commission it. We fought one of the greatest fights against fake and adulterated drugs and consolidated that fight. If you remember, counterfeit drugs were first detected in 1968. By 2001, more than 40 per cent of the drugs in the country were counterfeit or substandard. Due to the effort of my predecessor, by 2005, counterfeit drugs were reduced to 16.7 per cent. So, I have to build on that.

Building on my predecessor’s accomplishments…
When I came, I said well, 16.7 per cent is not good enough because in the US where I came from and some other countries I have been to, the incidence of counterfeit drugs is less that 1 per cent. Even then, it is because people try to buy drugs over the internet. And it has been found that over 50 per cent of drugs bought via the internet are fake. So that’s how you get the less than 1 per cent. So, that’s the standard I want for Nigeria, such that when Nigerians go to buy medicines, they need not even worry that the drugs might be adulterated; to be sure that NAFDAC has done its job and the products are safe and of good quality. But, unfortunately, things got even worse in the sense that counterfeit medicines became globalised, giving a bigger problem globally. With the recent crackdown on illicit narcotic trade, most of the drug barons have not diverted their resources to manufacturing counterfeit medicines. Globally, the business is worth about $75 billion annually. That is the quantity of fake drugs circulating internationally; it is more globalised and with the former hard drug barons now entering the business, it has become more militarized. It is now more dangerous fighting counterfeit drugs. Now they are more sophisticated.

Difficulty in identifying fake drugs…
Before, once you looked at the packaging of a medicine you knew that they were counterfeit, maybe from the printing. But now, with the sophistication in printing technology,  when you see the packaging it is copied exactly and sometimes they even copy more than the original. We attempted to put holograms on medicines but the counterfeiters got the hologram before us. Nigeria is a good market that attracts drug counterfeiters. We have a huge market; we have a good buying power; so when they bring their counterfeit drugs here, they sell. We have less than 30 per cent of manufacturing of local medicines and we have a huge malaria burden. Throughouth the world, Africa has a quarter of the malaria burden, and out of that, Nigeria has a quarter of the African burden. That is why anti-malaria drugs are bought in huge quantities. That is why any counterfeiter looking for a market will come to Nigeria. Add to that the fact that Nigeria has vast and porous borders. So, the job has become more complicated.

We are winning in spite of the sophistication…
But then, we have been able to reduce the incidence of adulterated drugs to a single digit. In the rural areas, the challenge is even more because the ignorance is even more, but we are trying. That is why we are working with the 774 local government chairmen; we have enlisted them to help us fight the incidence of counterfeit drugs. And we have devised new ways of detecting counterfeit drugs.       

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