Fake, Counterfeit Drugs: Reps Summon Health Minister

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Osagie-Ehanire
  • NAFDAC, NMA Others Favour Repeal Of Act*

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has been called before the House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services to discuss the measures his ministry has taken to combat the threat of counterfeit and fake drugs in the country.

The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Tanko Sununu, made the pronouncement at the public hearing on the Bill for an Act to repeal the counterfeit and fake drugs and unwholesome processed foods (miscellaneous provisions) act cap c34, laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and to make provisions for the prohibition and control of counterfeit medical products, fake drugs and unwholesome processed foods and for related matters 2021, in Abuja, Thursday.

Hon. Tanko Sununu and Hon. Samuel Babatunde Adejare sponsored the bill. The Minister’s action was uncalled for, according to the Committee chairman, who was visibly upset about the Minister’s inability to appear and present a submission on behalf of the Ministry of Health.

He hinted that the public hearing was “publicized in two national dailies and these are Bills that are aimed at improving the healthcare of this country and if the ministry in charge of the responsibility of safe guiding the health of Nigerians is not serious with the legislation that will guide their policy, I think, it is uncalled for.

“I am just made to be aware that the ministry made a presentation this morning of three Bill and I mentioned it in my speech that takes insecurity, corruption the next thing that disturbs Nigerians and is consuming our economy creating havoc is counterfeit, unwholesome food products and fake drugs in this country.

“And to say as at this morning the ministry cannot come with any position on these issues, I think it is not acceptable. It is not acceptable. The committee will not take it lightly.

“We will look at the role of the Ministry as far as the control of fake drugs and unwholesome food products is concerned.

“We must ensure that we protect the health of Nigerians. The economy has gone down. The percentage of our out-of-pocket spending even at the level of WHO is at the level of 70 to 75 per cent and if cannot provide drugs for somebody and you still allow him to go and buy fake drugs or poison, it’s not fair.

“We are trying to find a solution to the many challenges in the health sector and the ministry that is in charge of that responsibility did not see the urgency in it to make it position known to the general public.

He continued: “I made several calls this morning to confirm if the ministry is represented, I think the ministry knows that they are accountable to Nigerians the better.

“On that, we note we still look forward in the next 24 hours to get the position of the ministry on that particular Bill otherwise, whatever the recommendations of the general public, we will take it.

“To say that the department of food and drugs of the ministry of health cannot sit down and draft a recommendation that can be approved by the Minister or Permanent Secretary and submit is a serious administrative lapse and the committee will not take it lightly.

“The Minister, is, therefore, to appear before the Committee on Tuesday by 11 am to explained what it has done in protecting the country  from the menace of fake drugs and also to make their presentation.”

Also, Pharmacist Hashim Ubale Yusufu, who was one-time chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Fake and Counterfeit drugs, suggested that the enforcement of the provisions of the Act should be vested in an independent body.

According to him: “I propose it should be vested in a Task Force domiciled under the Ministry of health; the said Taskforce should be headed by a Director-General appointed by the President; the said Taskforce should have a distinct budget line to guarantee its independence and that the Bill should be focused on Substandard and Falsified Medical Products to accommodate statutory definitions and protocols as contained in international instruments.”

The above recommendations, Yusuf said will substantially change the structure and legal framework of dealing with the menace of Substandard and falsified medical products.

While responding to questions from journalists, Yusufu, explained that the Bill on counterfeit and fake drugs is meant to remove or reduce to the barest minimum the circulation of substandard counterfeit medicine or medical products in Nigeria.

On whether it is going to reduce the powers of NAFDAC, he said that NAFDAC has its powers, “it looks at all products that are either produced or imported into Nigeria within the powers, this could be drugs, cosmetics and others to make sure that they are safe and efficacious at production or importation into Nigeria and give it marketing authorisation. That is the work of NAFDAC.

“With a lot of work that NAFDAC was doing, at a point, there was a lot circulation of these counterfeit medicines. The pharmacists got worried and asked for a task force to take the menace out of the system.”

He, however, hinted that: “The task force needs to be independent. If we place it in NAFDAC, the morale will be low, the funding will be very poor.

“When it comes to its own, it is going to build collaboration around. it is better it stands on its own.”

While making her input, the Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said that her agency was fully in support of the Bill.

Represented by Kingsley Ejiofor, Director of Investigation and Enforcement of NAFDAC as well as the Chairman of the Federal Task Force on Counterfeit and Fake drugs, the Director General said: “Security is a component of what we are considering here. It is easy to kill many people with just a bottle of falsified or substandard drugs.

“We are here not to reinvent the will but to strengthen the power of NAFDAC to fight the incidences of counterfeiting. Just like what we have in the USFDA.”

On why the repeal of the NAFDAC Act was important, he said: “We have a situation where someone is involved in the counterfeiting of drugs and the person is just given three years imprisonment or 200 naira fine.

“The person will just put his hands in the pocket and pay the fine and just walk out of the court. But NAFDAC has been fighting. We all recall the case of My Pikin drug where 83 infants were killed as a result of the injection of a teething mixture. We know we don’t keep a good record in our country, I know I could be more than 83.

“Now we have a law which will address all that. We have a law that prescribed life jail terms. We are wholeheartedly in support of what you are doing. This is the time for us to strengthen the Act we have now and to create a new body.NAFDAC is behind and we support this bill wholeheartedly. “

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