For a government that attaches great premium to the health of its citizenry, the discovery last week, by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) that over 90 per cent of pharmaceutical and patent medicine stores in Port Harcourt sell fake drugs to members of the public is definitely worrisome.
The Port Inspectorate Directorate (PID) of NAFDAC recently carried a truscane test on major sale outlets of drugs in circulation in Port Harcourt and its environs and the result was quite revealing. After the exercise virtually every drug consumed by the public failed the potency test. The Agency’s sources said the result of that truscane test is an obvious indication that wholesome drugs in circulation were a huge danger to the health of those who patronise them. The Director of PID, Momodu Segiru who led the survey team later explained that the exercise was meant to collect data on the state of drugs, nationwide, with a view to mopping up bad drugs in circulation.
The Port Harcourt discovery follows the closure of 200 similar patent medicine shops with same troubling credentials in Calabar, the Cross River State capital. With these lurid details, that the health of the citizenry is undoubtedly at great risk, is to state it mildly, for, we can only imagine what measure of havoc such drugs must have wrecked on innocent lives.
This is why we feel that beyond alerting the public on the state of the drugs and the danger they pose to society, government agencies charged with the health needs of the citizens, must act quickly to check further circulation of illicit drugs, most of which are manufactured outside the country but eventually found their way into Nigerian markets.
How can the health of the citizenry be willfully compromised only to allow dubious business moguls flood Nigerian markets with fake drugs? In fact, a situation whereby fake drugs and sub-standard goods are effortlessly smuggled into the Nigerian markets is a pointer to the fact that our border posts, airports and seaports are porous. The Customs and other security personnel at those entry points must share the blame of our inaction. For, if they were alive to their statutory responsibilities, such fake drugs would not, in the first place, flood Nigerian markets, let alone be forced down the throats of unsuspecting and gullible patrons.
This is why the Nigerian Customs Service and other security organs must, as a matter of urgency, be better alert and demonstrate true patriotism by checking any further influx of dangerous goods into the country. On its part, government should adopt more proactive measures to checkmate the circulation of fake drugs in Nigeria because the danger it poses is too grave to ignore. In simple terms, it is capable of wasting a generation of Nigeria’s future leaders and this will impact negatively on the development of the nation.
The Tide recalls with pride how NAFDAC, under Prof Dora Akunyili confronted the primary sources of production and not merely scratch the surface. We recommend that there be a similar crusade with the full support and backing of government. This fresh attempt must, in addition to targeting primary sources ascertain the distribution outlets and strive at mopping up all the fake drugs already in the market.
Thereafter, it will be necessary for government to create an enabling environment that will encourage the establishment of dependable pharmaceutical stores in strategic areas by private concerns to serve as distribution outlets for quality drugs to patent medicine stores who in turn will service the people. This is because in time of scarcity, Nigerians make do with the available. If the people have access to quality drugs, we believe they will shun patronage of fake ones. NAFDAC should consider also, decentralisation of its operations to the local communities where, the bulk of the people live, in order to safeguard their health and that of the nation.
It is equally important that local governments carry out routine sensitisation campaigns in their respective areas to enlighten the people on the inherent dangers of fake drugs consumption. While this is on, NAFDAC should dig even deeper to the root of the key operators behind the illicit trade and subsequently bring the unpatriotic elements to book.
However, for these efforts to succeed, the general public should also be ready to volunteer confidential information to NAFDAC that could lead to tracking down the culprits. Nigeria and Nigerians have a lot to gain, if this effort succeeds, so all must be involved because the lives we save in the process could be ours.