Many express concerns over the possibility of tracing and retrieving fake products that have already been distributed to various markets.
Everyday, the media space is awash with stories of fake drugs, foods and other consumables being manufactured, imported and sold to unsuspecting members of the public.
The constant influx and proliferation of fake and substandard drugs in the Nigerian market has generated anxiety among Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the health sector. More disturbing is the unhindered access to all manner of drugs, including controlled ones.
While those behind the clandestine businesses are smiling to the bank, their actions have sent many to their graves or caused health complications, including physical disabilities.
These fake and substandard products, particularly drugs, have been considered a global threat to human lives, leading to treatment failure, worsening of chronic disease conditions and a host of other complications.
Findings reveal that Africa records at least 100,000 deaths from fake drug-related ailments yearly, as counterfeit drugs account for about 20 per cent of generic drugs in supply in Nigeria.
Despite various efforts by National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and other agencies to combat the menace, the Nigerian market remains flooded with different unwholesome products.
There have been repeated calls to members of the public to endeavour to give information to the security and monitoring agencies on what is happening in their vicinities, in their own interest.
Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the police discovery in December 2018 in which operatives of the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) uncovered an illegal factory at 2, Okunnenye Street, Ikotun Egbe, Lagos State, where fake drugs were produced.
At the busted factory, there were cartons of different fake drugs, large quantities of unprocessed chemical substances used in manufacturing them, several machines fabricated for processing, manufacturing and packaging the drugs and forged pharmaceutical papers.
Four suspects were apprehended for the illegal production of the drugs.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, who paraded the suspects, said the arrest was made possible through credible intelligence.
On that note, the IGP has advised the public to be wary of where they procure foods, drugs and drinks, warning that many of them were fake and capable of causing outright death or physical and mental disability.
Though the premises were immediately sealed, many expressed concerns over the possibility to trace and retrieve the fake products that have already been distributed to various markets.
Hear the principal suspect’s confession: “I am 47 years old. I am from Mbaise in Imo State and I am the owner of the factory. I am a school certificate holder. I learnt the trade from my friend who is now late. I started my own business about four years ago. Although I am not a pharmacist or a chemist but the medicine is not totally fake as I use quality chemicals to produce it.
“My market is in Onitsha, Anambra State. I don’t supply in Lagos. I distribute only in Onitsha and they, in turn, know where they distribute to. I try to be genuine, as instead of 250mg I make it 180mg. That is the only offence I have committed but, really, the medicine works.”
Similarly, on April 11, 2018, the police uncovered an illegal brewery at Egbe-Afa in the Igbogbo area of Ikorodu, Lagos State, which specialised in producing malt and stout drinks. The fake products were also produced in an unhygienic environment.
While parading the suspects, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, said, apart from the malt and stout drinks, the counterfeiters were also producing ethanol, which they pumped into trucks to bottle at another location.
While the police sealed up the factory, the police chief appreciated members of the community, as he attributed the discovery of the illegal brewery to the efforts of community policing and partnership.
Imohimi urged residents to know their neighbours, saying that vigilance was the only way to have a crime-free society.
“Lagosians can only give credible information to the people when they are healthy; so I will encourage you to say something when you see something,” Imohimi said.
It was discovered that the illegal brewery had more than 1,000 drums of brewed malt and 100 tanks where the drinks were pumped before supplying tankers.
A major distributor of drugs in Lagos, Mr. Nnamdi Okey, called for increased surveillance, especially on controlled drugs. He said it was painful that controlled drugs were still sold at unregistered pharmacy shops across Nigeria to the detriment of consumers.
He demanded stiffer penalties for promoters of fake drugs. According to him, the calls for a life imprisonment, confiscation of assets and compensation to victims on conviction were in order.
“The penalty for counterfeiting of drugs as punishable by imprisonment for between three months to five years or alternatively a fine of N100,000 is laughable,” he said.
Lending his voice to the issue, the former president of PSN, Mr. Olumide Akintayo, said the consumer was the primary focus in the health care delivery system as well as in the drug distribution chain. He stated that, these days, the consumer was being ravaged by fake drugs. According to him, the negative effects of fake drugs on the consumer and the economy remain unquantifiable.
“Once you say drugs are fake, either counterfeit of substandard, what it implies is that the active ingredients of the intended medicine will not be available, which leads to therapeutic failure. This is because the product is not biomedical.
“The consequences of therapeutic failure are many. It can be morbidity, which can be outright fatality or mortality. In many cases, over time, even with the right doses, there will still be therapeutic failure.
“The issue of fake drugs and other products has contributed significantly to epidemics sweeping the pharmaceutical sector. Some of the most potent anti-invectives in recent times have continued to fail.
“Nigeria is one country where access to medicine is very porous. Anybody can just walk into a pharmacy and get almost any drug, including controlled ones, without a prescription,” he said.
Speaking on the consequences of counterfeits on genuine manufacturers, Akintayo said it was pushing the real investors out of business to the detriment of the consumers, with were ripple effects on the national economy.
He said: “This is very simple. If the original paracetamol is sold for N50 and another one is sold at N20, there is the high tendency of purchasing the latter. We can understand this against the background of a very frail economy, where the people’s purchasing power is low. There is a guaranteed market for cheap products. Many people don’t care whether it is of quality or not, so long the product is cheap.”
He regretted that when the genuine drugs, especially those made by local manufacturers, are pushed out of business, there would be unemployment. He said the mandate and goal for Nigeria to produce
the local basic needs of its population, as spelt out in the National Drug Policy, could not be met with the reality on hand; consequently, Nigeria has become a big-for-nothing nation that could not provide for her own people’s basic needs.
He said, as far back in 2000, while he was the chairman of PSN, Lagos State, there were already thousands of unregistered drug sales outlets in the state. He later recommended what he called coordinated wholesale medicine as a way of monitoring and checkmating activities of open drug markets.
Akintayo expressed regrets that the state government had frustrated and jettisoned the proposal in so many ways, and the Federal Ministry of Health has not also shown the expected political will to energise the process: “Why is Nigeria such an attractive destination for fake drugs? It is because there is a ready market for it, to absorb the huge chunk of these products.
“For as long as the market continues to exist, so shall we continue to contend with the issue of fake drugs. The situation is very pathetic because lives are being wasted.”
On reversing the devastating trend, the pharmacist said any problem already identified should not be difficult to deal with by any serious government.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is one person that I respect because of his integrity and stance on corruption. But I must say that he has failed in the health sector. The beginning of that failure is on the basis of his wrong appointments in the sector. It is all about leadership failure by those in the Federal Ministry of Health. These people can never understand the challenges in the pharmaceutical sector. “The problem has always been a major disconnect in the entire drug distribution chain, particularly in poor-oriented inspectorate activities. If Buhari should graciously assist and encourage more satellite pharmacies to be manned by qualified pharmacists, they will cover more rural areas more than what is obtainable now.
“The Federal Government needs to be a little more responsible in dealing with this menace. This is not rocket science. All you need is the assemblage of the right persons – pharmaceutical scientists and other specialists. It is not too late, we can come out of it,” Akintayo said.
In spite of the Federal Government ban, many producers of fake drugs and importers of pharmaceutical products have continued to manoeuvre their way to remain in business. These items, in large and small quantities, still flourish in sales outlets and open markets.
SON’s Lagos State coordinator, Office One, Joseph Ugbaja, described the activities of counterfeiters as fraudulent and geared towards crippling the economy.
He regretted that the importers have over the years deployed clever ways to continue to smuggle various banned items into Nigeria. He said some of them go as far as adulterating the original products and reducing the quality and selling at lower prices, not minding the health and economic consequences on the people and country, respectively.
Said he: “A lot of sharp practices are going on among these dishonest producers. We are getting to know more of their antics. We equally rely on the information we get from members of the public and consumers. We treat this information with strict confidence.”
Ugbaja urged Nigerians to forward complaints of any suspected fake product to www.son.gov.ng.
He explained that vigilance by the public was important as it was impossible for SON’s officials to be everywhere at the same time.