• Friday, April 12, 2024
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How Nigeria can curb spread of counterfeit products – Experts

Nigeria must tighten regulations against counterfeit and substandard medicine and other products with stiffer penalties for offenders if it must make any meaningful progress in the fight against the menace that has claimed the lives of innocent citizens, experts have said.

They said regulatory bodies including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) must take an aggressive stance against merchants of counterfeit drugs.

Muda Yusuf, CEO, of Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, is of the view that the near-term solution would be “to step up the capacity of the regulators, to be able to monitor, particularly to be able to gather information and intelligence because that is the best way they can tackle this problem”.

He said: “A medium to long-term solution is to reduce the cost of production of these items. If the costs are lower and more people can afford the original things, the opportunities for counterfeiting will be reduced.

“Right now, the risk of counterfeiting is extremely, very high and it’s even more dangerous for pharmaceutical products because for most of them, the original versions are now very, very expensive, and before you know it, all these counterfeiters have invaded the pharmaceutical space, selling all sorts of fake substandard products.”

Yusuf said the counterfeiters go to local communities to carry out their operations, adding that NAFDAC, SON and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission need to intensify their efforts through adequate government support.

“Government needs to deal with macroeconomic issues to bring down the cost of production so that prices can be more affordable. The second is to strengthen the capacity for enforcement and for intelligence of the regulatory agencies; the government needs to support them a lot more.”

Adaobi Onyechi, a public health expert, said NAFDAC must take the war aggressively against the merchants, citing progress made during the late Dora Akunyili’s era.

She said: “NAFDAC AND SON are putting in efforts, but they can do so much more. Recall the time of the late Dora Akunyili; she was aggressive and left nothing to chance. Several Nigerians applauded the agency because they could feel the impact of her work. At that time, the prevalence dropped to below 20 percent. That is the posture I want these regulatory bodies to assume.

“This issue of counterfeit medicine is a matter of national security and should not be taken lightly. The peddlers of the falsified medicine are persuasive, organised and strategic.”

A 2023 research paper published by the University of Portsmouth on ‘Fraud, Corruption and Counterfeits in the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Industry’ recommended that combating counterfeits requires effective cooperation and collaboration of the government of the countries in this region through the provision of basic infrastructures, investment in modern counterfeit drugs detecting technologies, development of the right policing strategy to address the problem of cross-border smuggling of counterfeit drugs, and strong and effective punitive measures that will serve as a deterrent.

“As long as the open drug markets remain operational, it remains challenging to combat counterfeit medicines,” Onyechi said.

Adaobi urged the NAFDAC and SON to invest in modern technology to track and locate substandard and falsified drugs and improve on intelligence gathering.

Ode Philip, a medical practitioner, called on regulatory agencies to improve their intelligence and institute a regular naming and shaming of perpetrators.

He stressed the significance of border controls, inspections, and collaboration with customs agencies to prevent the entry of counterfeit goods.

Sam Adu, a medical expert with Aman Medicare in Abuja, advised patients to always give feedback to their healthcare providers or doctors when they react negatively to a prescribed drug.

He said: “If a drug is not working as it should, the necessary authorities will take it up, the education and cooperation of the patient is also important.

“If you take a drug and there is an adverse reaction, instead of thinking that it is the doctor that has not given me the right thing and then go to another doctor, the right thing to do is to report that thing because sometimes, that doctor was also not expecting that reaction but we lose a lot of patients to follow-up.”

He emphasised the need for collaboration among government agencies to curb the sale of fake products.

The Institute for Security Studies said that between the 2nd and 19th of August 2020, 33 containers of prohibited drugs worth N1.3 trillion were shipped into three different locations in Lagos from where they were then redistributed illegally to other parts of Nigeria.

Many stakeholders believe that pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria have a role to play in the adoption of Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) to ensure the use and public consumption of only safe and authentic medicines.

Speaking with BusinessDay, Sayo Akintola, NAFDAC resident consultant, said the agency is working to sensitise Nigerians on the need to patronise only from recognised and approved licensed pharmaceutical stores.

“Some Nigerians don’t read before buying anything; they don’t even check expiry dates. We tell Nigerians to get products only from licensed pharmaceuticals,” he said.

On the prevalence of falsified and counterfeit medicines in the country, the consultant said smuggling through the porous borders is perhaps one of the most challenging problems for the agency.

He said NAFDAC has deployed technology and personnel to stop the entry of counterfeit drugs through controlled borders but cannot do anything to stop these drugs from being smuggled into the country.

According to him, NAFDAC can only mop up these drugs after they have entered the country.

“There is only little or nothing we can do about smuggling until they come into the country,” he said.

Some years ago, SON unveiled a technology solution known as Product Authentication Mark (PAM) to curb the influx of substandard products into the Nigerian market. The technology is also to ensure that all imported and manufactured products meet requirements of the relevant standards.

Farouk Salim, former director general of SON, described PAM as a digital technology to complement SON’s conformity assessment and manufacturers’ conformity assessment in furtherance of the fight against substandard and counterfeit products in Nigeria.

“The authentication of products through PAM would block smugglers from importing or manufacturing substandard products in Nigeria. The PAM will also help consumers detect and reject substandard goods in the market,also increase productivity, employment of labor, wealth creation and improve security of lives and properties,” he said.

Salim urged consumers to check online authenticity of the products they want to buy in the market to ascertain fake, cloned and counterfeit products.