4 January 2013

Nigeria: Sanitizing the Open Drugs Market


The circulation of fake and substandard drugs in Kano State has spurred the government and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to take remediating action.

The state is considered a one of the biggest depots in Nigeria for fake drugs, posing serious public health risks.

Recently, such drugs of dubious quality worth hundreds of millions of naira were destroyed, following a month-long crackdown on illegal and clandestine pharmaceutical outlets across the state. Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso in company of the Director-General of NAFDAC, Dr Paul Orhii, jointly supervised the burning of the more than 10 trailer loads of counterfeit drugs.

Kwankwaso pledged that the government would not leave any stone unturned until "those merchants of deaths vacate the state", and announced last December 31 as the final deadline for dealers in fake drugs in the Sabon-Gari market in Kano metropolis to abandon or relocate their destructive business. The open drug market is described as a haven for fake, adulterated and substandard drugs, and is a hub for supply to other states of the federation and neighbouring countries. The state branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has expressed support for the quit notice served on dealers of such drugs.

But the dealers, uniting under the Nigerian Association of Patent and Proprietary of Medicine Dealers (NAPPMED), are fighting back, challenging the government's decision at the Federal High Court in Kano. The dealers asserted that only the federal government has the constitutional power to impose laws on drug business. The Kano example is however something that other states should quickly emulate.

The fake drugs business is very lucrative, despite its harmful effects on public health. Its continued operation worsens the state of healthcare delivery system in the country. Corruption, low level of local capacity for the production and protection of the identity of genuine drugs as well as inadequate vigilance and advocacy by regulatory agencies are among factors identified for widespread drug counterfeiting.

While the collaborative efforts of the Kano State Government and NAFDAC are welcome, clamping down on major manufacturers and suppliers of fake drugs would be one sure way of sending smaller and retail dealers out of the fake drug business. Extending such measures to source companies outside Nigeria would significantly help to check the menace of fake drugs circulating in the country. The penalty for manufacture, supply or circulation of fake drugs in Nigeria is mild, and its deterrent effect minimal.

Appropriate penalty for drug counterfeiting would be a more effective deterrent; this should be considered. It is because drug counterfeiting is such a serious crime that many countries, like China and India, provide the death penalty for it.

There is also need to enact liability laws to empower victims of fake drugs to seek compensation from manufacturers, suppliers and purveyors of fake drugs. For laws on fake drugs to be effectively enforced, corruption at various levels of the pharmaceutical industry including NAFDAC officials and other health workers as well as law enforcement operatives must be checked.

NAFDAC as well as the Pharmacists' Council of Nigeria (PCN) should be encouraged and sufficiently empowered to introduce the use of technology to assist consumers with mobile devices authenticate the genuineness of drugs before purchase. Aggressive public enlightenment campaign is also important to educate the public on how go about to identify genuine drugs from the fake. Indigenous industries should be supported to produce widely-used drugs. Local capacity production could be sustained by banning importation of common used over the counter drugs.

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