Not too long ago, this newspaper ran a story about the appalling state of laboratory and equipment at the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
The report revealed how the agency is groaning under paucity of funds which has impeded its ability to procure necessary equipment needed for testing of drugs and food so as to guard against fake and adulterated substances as well as the attendant consequences.
Explicitly, the report revealed that the product and drug regulatory agency is reeling under heavy financial burden, which has hampered its operations. Apart from releasing funds for salaries, the federal government does not allocate funds to the agency for other recurrent and capital expenditure.
The National Assembly does not appropriate funds through the budget cycle to NAFDAC and treats it as a revenue generating and self-sustaining organisation. The agency, it was observed, is bogged down by revenue challenges to the extent that it lacks money to acquire key equipment to perform its regulatory functions.
NAFDAC boss, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, once told the Senate Committee on Health that 80 per cent of the agency’s equipment is obsolete.
“Most of our equipment are obsolete and you cannot use old equipment for analysis, so we need to re-equip. The World Health Organisation (WHO) came to inspect our facilities and they gave Yaba facilities almost zero per cent because the centre is too small and the equipment are obsolete.” she said.
The impact of NAFDAC using obsolete equipment to work is pronounced when it comes to the registration of new products and analysing products in the laboratory. Stakeholders always experience delay in the registration of new products due to this factor. One of the fundamental requirements for enhanced public health is the supply of safe medicines.
The consequences of substandard drugs are enormous as there are relationships between drug failure and health problems in the society.
Poisoning, early deaths, and treatment failures are some of the consequences of substandard medicines. A reliable, good-quality medicine supply is essential for health, but it is often missing in countries with weak regulation or poor enforcement mechanisms like Nigeria. Medical products ought to meet the standards of quality, safety and efficacy.
The quality of medical products is, however, a major public health concern as registered and unregistered medical products are sold in many markets, especially in Africa. Illegal manufacture, distribution, widespread availability and indiscriminate use of substandard, spurious, falsely labelled, falsified or counterfeit medical products have serious consequences for public health.
Indeed, the need to address some of these challenges informed the decision to set up agencies like NAFDAC. There is no reason whatsoever to starve the agency of funds considering the important nature of its duties. NAFDAC is charged with the regulation and control of manufacturing, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and packaged water in Nigeria.
It also has the duty to check illicit and counterfeit products to safeguard the citizens’ health. This onerous task cannot be undertaken effectively with the needed efficiency if money is not made available to the agency, but it appears the funding challenge stalling the agency’s operation is not getting the desired attention.
The NAFDAC boss disclosed recently that about $40 million is required to purchase about 80 TruScan Machines to detect the over 17 per cent of substandard and fake drugs in circulation in the country. One TruScan machine costs about $50,000. She said the agency currently has about seven TruScan Machines and all are outdated. To function effectively, NAFDAC needs at least two of such machines in each state but currently has only seven in the whole country and all are even outdated!
There is little wonder, therefore, that fake drugs easily get their way to medicine shops and eventually end up being consumed by most Nigerians. As of March 2019, it was discovered that about 1.3 per cent of essential medicines, especially antimalarials, in Nigerian markets are substandard and falsified.
Informed opinion from stakeholders suggests that the figure may well be a conservative estimate after all. It is our considered opinion that government needs to take another look at the funding of NAFDAC.
The whole essence of the agency will be defeated if it cannot afford basic tools needed for the testing and laboratory analysis of food and drugs that are consumed by the majority of Nigerians.
Indeed, while exploring other funding options for NAFDAC, government must take cognisance of the fact that one sure way to succeed in the fight against falsified and substandard drugs is to increase the output of local manufacturers. As a nation, Nigeria cannot afford not to have local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies. Such indigenious firms must be supported so that the nation will depend less on importation.
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