Despite the challenges and hurdles which confronted Nigeria’s health sector in 2015, there was however a remarkable achievement in the fight against fake drugs.
Even though many Nigerians may have different views on the successes recorded by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in the fight against fake and substandard regulated products in the country, there is however convergence of views in the area of the fight against fake anti-malaria drugs in the country.
In August last year, NAFDAC recorded a major feat that has never been recorded in the history of the fight against fake and substandard products in the country, resulting in the reduction of counterfeit anti-malaria drugs from 19.6% in 2012 to 3.6% in 2015. This, many believe, is a monumental success.
This was the outcome of a nationwide survey conducted in six geo-political zones in the country on the quality of anti-malaria medicines.
The survey was jointly undertaken by the National Malaria Elimination Programme of the Federal Ministry of Health and NAFDAC with funding support by United States Pharmacopeial and USAID.
While announcing the result of the survey, the outgoing Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, said that the feet was achieved due to the introduction and deployment of new anti-counterfeiting cutting-edge technologies such as TRUSCAN, Mobile Authentication Services (MAS), Mini-laboratory and Deep Infra-red technology by NAFDAC under his watch.
Dr. Orhii noted that the agency has done Nigeria and, indeed, Africa proud with this remarkable achievement coming closely on the heels of the recent seizure of N5 billion counterfeit drugs evacuated from 5 warehouses in Lagos.
He reiterated the commitment and determination of NAFDAC, as an agency to completely eradicate the menace of counterfeit drugs in the country very soon.
Even though the feet was not well celebrated in the country as expected, partly due to lack of proper understanding of the magnitude of the achievement on the part of most Nigerians, the success was acknowledged as one of the great things that could happen in the fight against fake drugs not only in Nigeria, but in the entire African continent.
It will suffice to note that Malaria has continued to be a massive global public health problem and it is prevalent in 104 countries.
It has been estimated that nearly half of the world population is at risk of malaria. Although it is a preventable and curable illness, it remains one of the major causes of maternal and childhood morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.
The counterfeiting of anti-malaria drugs can best be described as a form of attack on global public health since fake and substandard drugs generally serve as sophisticated weapons of mass destruction.
This is particularly prominent in resource-constrained countries including Nigeria, where malaria causes nearly 660,000 preventable deaths and threatens millions of lives annually.
It has been estimated that fake anti-malarias contribute to nearly 450,000 preventable deaths every year. This crime against humanity is often underestimated or ignored.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2015, approximately 3.2 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – were at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
The world health body further noted that some population groups are at considerably higher risk of contracting malaria, and developing severe disease, than others. These include infants, children under 5 years of age, pregnant women and patients with HIV/AIDS, as well as non-immune migrants, mobile populations and travelers.
According to the latest WHO estimates was released in December in 2015, there were 214 million cases of malaria and 438 000 deaths in 2015.
Between 2000 and 2015, malaria incidence among populations at risk fell by 37% globally; during the same period, malaria mortality rates among populations at risk decreased by 60%.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 88% of malaria cases and 90% of malaria deaths.
Some 15 countries – mainly in sub-Saharan Africa – account for 80% of malaria cases and 78% deaths globally.
In areas with high transmission of malaria, children under 5 are particularly susceptible to infection, illness and death; more than two thirds (70%) of all malaria deaths occur in this age group.
An interview with medical experts and major dealers in pharmaceutical products across the country on the impact of the reduction in fake anti malaria drugs indicated that the achievement was not given the desired publicity and attention.
A renown Kaduna–based pharmaceutical dealer, Yusuf Ya’u, while reacting to the success, applauded NAFDAC for achieving such a great feat.
According to him, fake anti malaria drugs had been the cause of the untimely deaths of many innocent Nigerians. He insisted that fake anti malarias have contributed immensely in the rise of maternal and infant deaths in the country.
“Do you know the millions of people that take anti-malaria drugs every day in this country? Millions of people fall sick each day due to malaria and that is why anti malaria drugs have been the major target of drug counterfeiters.
“To me as a dealer in pharmaceutical products, this is the only achievement I can see in the health sector in 2015. What that means is the less Nigerians, especially the poor and rural dwellers will die as a result of the consumption fake anti malaria drugs. NAFDAC must be commended for the introduction of cutting edge technologies which has led to the success recorded,” he said.
On his part, an Abuja-based pharmaceutical dealer who has chains of pharmacies spread around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and neigbouring towns in Nasarawa State, said that the reduction of the fake anti malaria drugs to single digit by NAFDAC was under estimated by Nigerians, even by the government itself.
He noted that with such success recorded, it means that the days of fake drug dealers are numbered as they will soon be thrown out of business considering that most fake drug manufacturers produce anti malaria products.
“We must commend the then NAFDAC Director General, Paul Orhii, for the innovations he introduced in the fight against fake drugs”.
He, however, called for the sustenance of such effort by the incoming head of the agency for the good of the country.