The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) under Dr. Paul Orhii’s leadership has introduced new and dynamic ways of waging the war against the proliferation of food and drug substances in Nigeria using modern technologies.
The result of these innovations has been a massive reduction in the number of such dangerous health- related products coming into the country while local manufacturers are facing the worst fights of their lives. The on-going revolution has been found to be more effective probably because it predicates on strengthening the institution itself rather than personalisation of the campaign as was the case in the past.
One of such novel idea is the use of TRUSCAN, a handheld device using Roman Spectroscopy to detect counterfeit products. With this technology, NAFDAC officials can quickly scan imported products at the Ports and release them on time without compromising their quality.
Nigeria is now the first country in the world to use it to detect quality of medicines. Following its success in Nigeria, the Food and Drug Administration agencies in the United States, Germany, Sweden, Canada and many others have also started using it.
Again due to the successes recorded with the TRUSCAN experiment, another cutting-edge device called the Black Eye which was manufactured in Israel has been introduced by NAFDAC. The Black Eye compares a tablet that you are trying to check and tell you whether it is genuine or fake and if you ask from the machine, it will break the product down into its component and tell you what it contains; active pharmaceutical ingredients or it contains so much inactive pharmaceutical ingredients.
It helps NAFDAC to work faster now because it can take up to 1000 different tablets at the same time and break them down and tell you which one is good or bad.
There is also the deployment of a mobile system that works with the use of text messages by consumers to ascertain genuineness of drugs before purchase. This is called Mobile Authentication Service, in addition to the use of Radio Frequency Identification among many others.
Apart from these high- tech approach, the Agency, to ensure that enforcement and monitoring personnel catch up with prevailing circumstances and challenges has embarked on aggressive up- grading of facilities at their various laboratories across the country to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international standards. At no other time has NAFDAC officials received relevant trainings than in the present dispensation.
The agency is also penetrating deeply into new areas provided for in its mandate but which were hitherto not adequately covered by its activities. Such areas include checking the quality of fertilisers brought into Nigeria to ensure that they are safe and of the required standard as well as ensuring that ways and manners in which foods are processed and packaged by fast food companies operating in the country conforms with international best practices.
The only Medical Doctor in the world who is also a Lawyer and Biomedical Scientist, Dr. Orhii’’s wealth of experience and knowledge acquired in different academic and management fields has been brought to bear in a renewed and unusual determination to deal with the task at hand. His deep knowledge of legal technicalities and delivery have combined to engender positive deviation from the manner and ways offenders of the Act establishing NAFDAC are investigated, arrested and prosecuted.
He speaks passionately on the need to root out the menace of fake, counterfeit, adulterated, expired and other unwholesome food and drug products as according to him, these are the crux of the matter. And knowing where most of these products enter the country from, NAFDAC has entered into mutually beneficial relationships with governments of the manufacturing countries.
This is in addition to synergies with other sister agencies like the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), NDLEA and many others. The Customs for example now allow NAFDAC access to their system where officials of the Agency are able to view the contents of a container and if they believe that the container may have something that is of interest to them, NAFDAC can insist on inspecting the container.
There is also closer collaboration with local governments and traditional rulers who have bought into the campaign to stop drug and food proliferation in their communities. In states like Jigawa, Edo and Kano for example, local government’s are setting up NAFDAC desks with officers assigned to monitor and arrest offenders. Kano has in addition set up mobile court to speedily try people who are caught hawking drugs.
The results of these efforts are very much encouraging as can be testified by the drastic reduction in major cities across the country with Nigerian now looked at as the global leader in the fight against counterfeit medicine. Many countries especially from Africa including Sierra Leone, Ghana and Uganda have sent their people to work in NAFDAC laboratories, studying how things are done here, and why not? Statistics show that incidence of fake medicine is presently at about just 5 percent in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and in Kaduna while Jigawa is even less.
But the NAFDAC boss is not relenting as he said the battle is still raging “Counterfeiting is like a balloon filled with water; you push it on one side, it goes and waits for your hands, and if you want to take the hands, it can bounce back even stronger.
So, that is what we saw when NAFDAC fought counterfeiting and reduced it to 15.7 percent, but by 2008, we found out that more than the 64 percent of the anti-malaria drugs in the circulation were either fake or substandard. So, you cannot celebrate that you have gained some victory, especially now that it is even more dangerous,” Dr. Orhii had told reporters.
And that underscores the reason why Dr. Orhii is working fervently with the National Assembly, the Nigeria Bar Association and other relevant agencies to ensure that the Acts establishing NAFDAC is reviewed to provide stiffer penalties up to life imprisonment and confiscation of property for the merchants of death who feed fat on the blood of their fellow country men.