Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health

HEALTH-NIGERIA: Pharmaceutical Firms Support Beleaguered Drug Agency

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Mar 12 2004 (IPS) - Pharmaceutical manufacturers in Nigeria have rallied around the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control – this after possible arson attacks on two buildings that house agency premises.

Representatives from the drug industry held a well-attended meeting in Nigeria’s commercial centre, Lagos, on Thursday (Mar. 11) to discuss the matter.

On Wednesday, the Kaduna office and laboratory of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) were gutted by fire. Kaduna is located in northern Nigeria.

Barely 72 hours earlier, NAFDAC’s office in Lagos – the main centre of the agency’s activities – also burned down when the Federal Government Secretariat building caught fire. The secretariat also housed the Lagos headquarters of other government departments.

Some observers believe that the fires were started by dealers in counterfeit drugs who are being targeted by NAFDAC.

Emma Ebere, Chairman of the pharmaceutical group in the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, said "Within three years there has been significant reduction in (the) faking and dumping of regulated products."

"They (the dealers in fake drugs) would want NAFDAC burnt down and Dora Akunyili (NAFDAC’s Director General) sent to an early grave…We are therefore here today to demonstrate solidarity with NAFDAC," Ebere added.

An attempt was made on Akunyili’s life on Dec. 26 last year at her country home in Agulu, eastern Nigeria. Sixteen people implicated in the assassination bid were later arrested, according to Nigerian police.

Costly equipment at NAFDAC’s Oshodi laboratory complex in Lagos was also vandalised in Feb. 2002.

However, agency officials say they will not allow these incidents to get in the way of efforts to clamp down on illicit medicines.

"It will not deter us from waging the war against fake drugs. I can assure Nigerians (that) we shall win the war, because we know we are fighting for the common man," said Nnamdi Ekweogwu, Director of Administration and Finance at NAFDAC.

"I cannot say categorically that the Lagos and Kaduna incidents are linked – but the fact that there is a rapidity in sequence of the two incidents is really agitating."

Eyitayo Lambo, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, also added his voice to the chorus of concern, saying police needed to cooperate with NAFDAC to safeguard its properties.

Although the poor economic situation in Nigeria has created a vibrant market for fake drugs, which sell cheaply, the use of these medicines has had disastrous consequences for many. In mid-2003, two children reportedly died in the eastern state of Enugu when they were given fake drugs after heart surgery.

During the past three years, NAFDAC has destroyed counterfeit drugs worth more than 60 million dollars. Many of these medicines originate in India and China.

The agency says it would like Nigeria to start domestic production of most medicines within the next decade, to eliminate the import of fake products into the country.

NAFDAC is also insisting that government-issued registration numbers be placed on bona fide imported drugs, so that sellers and the public can tell which products are counterfeit. Last year, Akunyili promised to destroy imported drugs which did not bear these registration numbers.

While counterfeit drugs were already circulating in Nigeria in the late 1960s, they only began posing severe problems when government started issuing licences indiscriminately for the import of medicines into Nigeria.

According to the World Health Organisation, about 25 percent of drugs administered in the developing world are counterfeit.

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