By Lexi Elo
Independent pharmacy/chemist and drug hawkers have been identified as the two main points of purchase of fake drugs/medicines in Nigeria, fake pharmaceutical drugs poll conducted in the week of February 16th 2015 by NOIPolls Limited reveal.
However, 18 percent of Nigerians say they have personally been victims of fake, counterfeit and substandard pharmaceutical products, medicines & drugs. While these figures represent the perceptions of Nigerians, pharmaceutical experts’ suggest that many Nigerians may not be aware they have been victims of fake pharmaceutical products, especially in the absence of obvious negative effects.
The poll results further indicated that the effects of fake drugs can be experienced in various dimensions depending on the ingredients that make up the counterfeit drugs thus leading to clues for the identification of fake drugs by users. For instance, about one-third (35 percent) of the respondents who have been victims were only able to identify that the drugs were fake when there was ‘no improvement in health at the completion of dosage’, followed by 29 percent who cited ‘adverse reaction’.
More findings from the poll revealed that about one-third (33 percent) of respondents who have been victims ‘took no action’; however 32 percent claimed they ‘discarded/destroyed the drugs’ upon realising they were fake.
As Nigerians recognise the prevalence of fake drugs in the country, several suggestions have also been proffered to combat the sale of fake, counterfeit and substandard drugs, which include – the ‘shutting down any outlet identified for selling fake drugs’ (29 percent); ‘arrest & prosecution of offenders’ (15 percent) and the enforcement of ‘drug authentication’ (10 percent) among others.
While these suggestions are not entirely new in the battle against the sale and distribution of fake drugs by NAFDAC, it is imperative that the agency and other stakeholders intensify efforts in the regulation and control of the importation, manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs in order to ensure the availability of safe and quality pharmaceutical products, medicines and drugs to Nigerian citizens.
Fake pharmaceutical products, medicines and drugs are a threat to public health and are part of the broader incident of substandard pharmaceuticals – medicines manufactured below established standards of character and are therefore dangerous to patients’ health and ineffective for the handling of any disease. It causes distress and deaths that some experts regard as attempted murder, while The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) refer to it as “the greatest evil of our time and the highest weapon of terrorism against public health, as well as an act of economic sabotage”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) described fake drug (also known as counterfeit medicine) ‘as one which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to identity and/or source. Counterfeit products may include products with the correct ingredients or with the wrong ingredients, without active ingredients, with insufficient active ingredients or with fake packaging.”
Fake drugs are discovered to be non-effective as most of them are either without active ingredients, with wrong ingredients or incorrect quantities of active ingredients. Thus the use of these drugs negatively affects patients thereby prolonging treatment periods as the health of patients may not improve upon usage. Also they may worsen the conditions being treated and even lead to death.
Nigeria is renowned for its battle with the menace of fake drugs in conjunction with NAFDAC, a prominent government agency responsible for regulating and controlling the manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and packaged water.
The combative actions of the agency include the destruction of drugs worth billions of naira, as well as the conviction of counterfeiters. Some noteworthy instances includes the seizure of fake drugs worth about two billion naira (US$ 16 million) seized by NAFDAC in 2006 under the administration of late Professor Dora Akunyili.
In recent times under the administration of Director General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, it was reported that five containers of drugs suspected to be fake amounting to N270 million was seized in January 2015. Despite such achievements, the issue of fake drugs continues to plague the Nigerian health system.
Against this background, NOIPolls conducted its recent poll on the issue of fake drugs to gauge the perception of Nigerians on the prevalence of fake drugs in Nigeria and experiences surrounding it, as well as possible suggestions for its eradication.