(By Adebayo Oladejo)
President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Pharm. Olumide Akintayo, has disclosed that enforcement of existing fake drug laws is the key to curbing drug counterfeiting in the country.
Akintayo said this in an exclusive interview with Pharmanews in Calabar, Cross River State, shortly after the opening ceremony of the 32nd Annual National Conference of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), tagged “Land of Paradise 2013.”
He explained that, while he sees nothing wrong with advocating stiffer penalties for drug fakers, the existing penalties,which were provided within the purview of the Act of Parliament, if properly enforced, should be enough to stem the tide of fake drugs in the country.
According to him, it would be highly impossible to curb drug counterfeiting in Nigeria with the present operating environment. “I am saying this with all sense of responsibility that the war against fake drugs in Nigeria may not be easily won, because I recollect that, as far back as 1995, the pioneer director general of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Gabriel Osuide, a fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, had declared at the National Council on Health meeting that the bedrock of fake drug distribution in Nigeria was open markets, and that was about eighteen years ago. Meanwhile, between that time and now, what has happened is that the number of open drug markets has increased, while their network has widened and expanded.”
He therefore called on the Federal Government and other relevant authorities to take the problem of production and distribution of fake drugs more seriously. “The appropriate regulatory agencies like the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Federal Task Force, States Task Forces, and others need to be properly funded. They should also be given better security cover, so that their mandate can actually be achieved, and so that it would not appear as if they are sending people out to combat criminals, without providing the requisite logistics for them.”
Continuing he said, “I have always said that there is a security dimension to the problem of fake drugs in this country, and the earlier we realise it the better for us as a nation. God forbid it happens, an enemy of this country does not need to go to war using arms against us; all they need to do is to lace one of our fast selling products with poison. Within days, we would record substantial fatalities because in this part of the world, we do not have recall mechanism; once a drug enters into our market, it would be impossible to recall the product because of our chaotic drug distribution system.”
Asked how well has he been coping with the leadership challenge that comes with the headship of PSN, Akintayo disclosed that it has been a tough challenge, which fortunately, he had been prepared for. “I was not expecting a tea party as the president, so I had prepared myself and I had been well-groomed and prepared in the tradition of organised pharmacists, as epitomised by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN). I have learnt to take things easy. I have learnt to be a little more patient and always welcome new ideas, fresh ideas, and I have learnt of course to pray a lot more and I don’t harbour doubts. I have no doubt that these challenges in the pharmacy practice are meant for us to overcome and that, by the grace of God, that I will leave pharmacy a lot better than I met it.”
Speaking on the efforts of all the technical arms of PSN towards the fight against fake medicine, Akintayo said it was too early to start assessing them. He however urged them not to be discouraged by the current challenges facing pharmacy practice in the country, adding that there would be improvements as soon as all stakeholders resolve to work towards them. “Pharmacy will work again; it will work in our generation and in our lifetime.What we only need to do is to begin to perfect the mission of how the practice would rise again in our micro environment. So, the professional body, community development associations and others should begin to work towards the betterment of their immediate environments and this would gradually have an impact on the larger society. Although this change would not come in a jiffy, and it would not come like magic, it requires hard work, courage and determination from all of us,” he said.
On the role of the government in dealing with the menace of drug counterfeiting, Pharm. Akintayo disclosed: “Government, on its own part, is certainly not doing enough, in this regard. They set up vital and sensitive regulatory agencies, but they are not funding them, and these agencies would not work effectively without proper funding. As I am talking to you now, I am made to understand that NAFDAC personnel are no longer at the port of entry, and if that is the case, it means it is only whateverthe customsagency wants us to see that we get to see. Meanwhile, we should not forget that a lot of fake drugs are disguised at the port of entry, so a man who is bringing in a consignment of fake drugs could declare that he is bringing in shoes and bags, and if the customs agency allows him, we are in for it. So, government should not play politics with all these sensitive agencies because of their sensitive responsibilities to the society.”
Pharm. Olumide Akintayo, president, PSN