Rwanda: FDA Vows to Strengthen Food Safety Checks

14 September 2023

Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) must act proactively while inspecting food safety in line with protecting the health of consumers, parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said. They warned the agency about the current situation where safety monitoring is inadequate.

The observation was made on Thursday, September 14, during the PAC hearings in which FDA officials were responding to queries exposed by the Auditor General's report for the financial year that ended on June 30, 2022.

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According to the audit report, among 110 safety inspections that Rwanda FDA had planned to conduct in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, it only carried out one - implying less than one per cent of the inspections it had to make over the two-year period.

Currently, the food safety monitoring at the agency is understaffed - with only two workers (inspectors), according to its officials.

Meanwhile, the agency leaders pledged to solve the identified issues through measures including the increase of post-market surveillance personnel.

The Deputy Director General of Rwanda FDA, Martine Umuhoza, said there are some inspections that are carried out "but it is like putting out a fire", which means that they are meant to respond to reports from the public (consumers) about the availability of substandard products in the market.

She said when there are people caught making illicit brews, the inspectors make routine checks to ascertain whether standards levels improved.

"Inspections are made, and we have related data we showed to auditors, but they told us that they are not among those that were planned for," she said.

PAC Chairperson Valens Muhakwa said the situation represents a weakness that should be addressed through effective planning, to avoid reliance on just putting out fires (or inspections for emergency purposes).

The division manager of pharmacovigilance and food safety monitoring at Rwanda FDA, Razaro Ntirenganya, said they conducted inspections but the problem exposed by auditors is that they do not match the plan. He indicated that they performed 49 inspections in 2020-2021.

These inspections, he added, followed visits to more than 1,290 factories and trading places, as a result of reports from different districts.

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Razaro said the agency was relatively new (it started its regulatory mandate in 2018), and there were many quality and safety issues that had to be addressed.

"For instance, in 2020-2021, we had cases of people who were harmed by alcoholic drinks, including those who became blind, among other major consequences," he said.

Muhakwa told Rwanda FDA officials that they should base on the identified cases for effective planning, instead of conducting emergency inspections only.

In response, Razaro said it is expected that in this financial year, the food safety monitoring department will get seven more workers - to make it a nine-staff team - in line with strengthening food safety monitoring across the country.

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