Could you comment on your work at IMPACT?
Until last year I was the Vice Chairman of the International Medical Products Anti Counterfeit Taskforce IMPACT with 193 member countries headquarter in Geneva. We worked closely with Interpol, police, customs, different Agencies. Our job was to form an international coalition against counterfeit medicines. There was a strong opposition by some countries that manufacture generics as the word “counterfeit” has a different legal connotation depending on the jurisdiction.
We had to come up with a WHO membership mechanism to fight counterfeit medicines. We called Spurious Standard Forcefully Labeled Counterfeit Medical Products.
Could you comment on the use of the Truscan device to detect counterfeited medicines here in Nigeria?
We are the first agency in the world to use the device for detecting fake medicines. We have deployed it in borders and in the stores. Our evaluators can use them to discriminate the real medicines from the ones that pose a risk.
Your tenure as DG has been marked with the use of leading technology such as RFID, Black Eye, Truscan, among others. Could you comment on this?
We are focused on technology in an effort to tackle the level of counterfeiting, as it has become more and more complicated over the years. Their sophistication in printing technology has led to situations in which the counterfeited product is packaged in a better way than the original.
We started using holograms. Yet they manage to counterfeit it before we started. Then we moved into the NAFDAC number, a special number to identify products. They did manage to copy it and replicate it.
Now we moved into evaluating the actual content inside the container, hence the use of the Truscan device. The Black Eye was acquired from Israel and we are experimenting with it. We want the consumer to verify at the point of purchase. We tried using the Radio Frequency Identification technology, but it did not work out very well because of cost implications. The cheapest chip is more than 10cents, here the conversion comes to 17 Naira and to apply this over cost in a pack of biscuits that costs 30 Naira means added inflation. We are exploring the ways to bring down the costs.
Counterfeited products are a means to an end: economic profit to finance illegal activities such as terrorism, among others. In this case, NAFDAC’s work has been the source for major convictions in India and China. What would you say when people associate Nigeria with forgery or counterfeited products?
We have a problem with counterfeiting and forgery of products. To some extent we understand why they would try to do this here. First and foremost Nigeria is a big country with 170 million people, hence a large market. The disease burden (malaria, cholera, etc) means there is a large demand for painkillers, antimalarial drugs, retroviral and antibiotics. Also, our borders are vast and porous. The trade agreements we have with other neighbor countries creates a zone in which control is difficult. Most of the products we need are not manufactured here. We rely heavily on imports and this is also an attractive for counterfeiters.
The technologies we are implementing will enable us to continue fighting this issue. 80 million Nigerian cellphone users will contribute to this task, by having the power of detection on their hands.
In terms of water control, and the potential to reduce cholera, diarrhea and typhoid, could you comment us your advances?
Water constitutes a 10bn naira business every day. This is a very quick business. There is high demand and the costs to start a water manufacturing company are low. Hence there are cases in which they try to package water in very unsanitary conditions. We are working with the association of table water manufacturers, to use their knowhow and their intelligence on locations, plants, etc. We have deployed mobile laboratories to check control and do testing. These laboratories allow us to sanitize the water industry.
Could you comment on the state of NAFDACs labs across the country?
We have seven labs across the country. We got ISO certification for our laboratory dealing with microtoxines. Currently our drug lab in Yaba (Lagos) is undergoing WHO accreditation. We just completed a lab in Kaduna in order to start work there, our aim is to get it accredited. We have acquired land in Abuja (10 hectares) near the airport to build a Lab of international standards there.
Could you comment about the Mega Drug Distribution Centers?
One of the biggest challenges we have in Nigeria is that drugs are sold in open markets. This makes the task of controlling quality a bit of a problem. The Minister of Health has launched a Drug Distribution Guideline. It requires for drugs to be housed and distributed under very stringent requirements in line with WHO standards (humidity, location, temperature); as well as tested before they reach consumers.
At the federal level we will have Mega Drug Distribution Centers. They will be built through a PPP mechanism, and for that purpose we have engaged in talks with different investors. This will mean that all the drugs that are both imported and manufactured in Nigeria will all be tested and stocked in several of these MDDC. Every State is being encouraged to convert their existing Medicine Storage facilities into State Drug Distribution Hubs. This will enable us to follow distribution and quality which will enable us to recall products should a fault arise.
You have an important responsibility in terms of health security in regards to vitamins, iodine, and protein levels in the foods you control.
We have a Food Fortification Program working in partnership with UNICEF, the WHO, among others. All salt in Nigeria must contain Iodine, as well as flour and sugar as well as vegetable oil must have fortification of Vitamin A. Because some states produce their salt locally as well as other type of food, we have to adapt in our control mechanisms and have deployed mobile iodization plants in order to control the right levels. We are constantly adapting.
What makes you the most proud of your work at NAFDAC?
Without a doubt the MAS system we have launched. From the first of July every antibiotic and antimalarial drug must have the MAS system to authenticate the medicine. We are the first country in the world to implement this and others are following.
Also in the area of drug manufacturing. When I took office more than 70% of drugs were imported.
At present, WHO is evaluating and certificating local companies and this means we will soon become self-sufficient and most probably a net exporter of medicines.
Providing ready available affordable medicine to 170m Nigerians is a life achievement of which I am proud.