NAFDAC and Its Numbers

by Adepoju Paul Olusegun

On a daily basis, Nigerians are faced with the unnecessary task of deciding which one is authentic among the ever growing, yet inexhaustible list of drugs for different ailments. Check them out: Energy 2000 (energizing medicine of choice when taking on energy- sapping challenges), YK 900 (cures impotency), Wonder Herbal Powder (cures HIV, cancer and hypertension), U and I Herbal formula (strengthens the coital aspects of relationships)… The list goes on. These are some of the ridiculous but widely acclaimed multi- purpose herbal drugs that ridicule medical practices owing to the fallacious, outlandish and lies- laden claims of their producers, coupled with the seeming complacency and inactive nature of the regulating body, the NAFDAC.

As expected, the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is saddled with the responsibility of making foods, drugs and allied products safe for use. It is tasked with the prevention of wrong practices, prohibition of organizational manipulations, and enforcement of the laws guiding the conducts of play makers in affected areas of human endeavors. This it does by ensuring due registration of such industries, companies, and the likes. It is also expected to enforce adherence to set standards via its institution of quality control measures like pharmacovigilance, and bring defaulters to justice as evident in its usual practice of shutting down companies (remember the Indomie saga?).

In times past however, the agency was quite inert until the advent of Obasanjo dispensation which brought on board the Dora phenomenon.

When the acronym NAFDAC is mentioned, the name that comes to mind is Dora, even when she has left the agency. This feat was achieved owing to the popularity of her pursuits of fake drugs peddlers across the nooks and crannies of the country. She did the job with an amazing dexterity that made all to forget the agency’s duties. The media also didn’t help matters as several encomiums and ovations were lavished on her, compelling all and sundry to either ignorantly or sheepishly applaud the audacious Anambra woman now evidently wobbling with Mr. President.

Unlike what most think of her, she and NAFDAC lost focus by sidelining the administration part while pursuing the short lived control aspect.

Like the US and UK’s FDAs, NAFDAC was intentionally created to patent drugs, other pharmaceuticals and health- related consumables. Globally, FDAs are meant to ensure that the manufacturers adhere to standard protocols from product ideation to large and low scale market distributions.

NAFDAC as an agency is expected to be in constant contact with companies involved in its genre of production and ensure that the final consumer or user of their products, whether patient or Patience, is protected. With the agency’s current modes of operation however, this is not so as administration has been reduced to company and product registration only, and [emergency] control is now the focus. Even at that, NAFDAC is failing.

Expired Gala products are now sold on the roads, Mr. Bigg’s outlets now sell rotten salad to unsuspecting customers like me, fake drugs are back at the pharmacies, rotten Geisha’s like the one I just cooked are on sale, NAFDAC certified but Beer-Lambert’s law dissatisfied medical diagnostic kits abound, and fake drugs peddlers, no thanks to the agency’s redundancy and unbelievable certification, are now having a field day.

The other day, while listening to an alternative medicine practitioner advertise his wares on the radio, I couldn’t help but burst into laughter as he brags on the ability of his wares (drugs) to cure seven diseases that world professors of medical science are still unable to unravel or demystify. The laughter got off my face when I heard him reel out NAFDAC numbers as evidence of the agency’s attestation to the safety, potency and efficacy of his drugs. He’s not the only one enjoying NAFDAC’s magnanimous benevolence.

Impure sachets of water are also on the increase with most of them having NAFDAC numbers boldly printed on them. From those with fine granules that are not easily visible to the unaided naked eye to those with groundnuts, long hair strands, stones and yellowish coloration, water in sachets are no longer safe. What went wrong?

The answer is quite simple. NAFDAC’s approach is the typical Nigerian fire brigade approach to solving problems, when things could have been easily done at the outset.

As a regulatory body, the agency is expected to have a drawn blueprint that clearly states the procedures, protocols and evidences based on closely monitored scientific researches to justify or nullify the claims of researchers, manufacturers and drug makers. This blueprints ought to lead manufacturers to producing extensively tested, safe and effective materials to the general public and not just armed with numbers to deceive unsuspecting members of the public. Instead of taking these steps, the agency insults the medical profession by blindly pursuing ignorant traders of such substandard products whose major concern is the basis of economics: demand, supply and profits, and who knew nothing about the biochemistry of the components of their wares. This act is much to the chagrin of the international community, and quite a way to re brand!

Administration and enforcement (control) are two issues that an agency like NAFDAC cannot handle all alone and at once. In essence, for the agency to be taken serious, it must delegate more responsibilities to the numerous product monitoring government establishments, and metamorphose into Nigeria’s FDA which should come after extensive understudy of those of UK, USA, and South Africa, and proper legislation by the National Assembly.

Until this is done, NAFDAC will be yet another moribund bureau, only known for its overambitious stamps and numbers. And the numbers will remain figures, but not just figures. Like James Bond’s 007, they personify a license to kill.

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