Could you tell us what NAFDAC does and how it has improved public health since its inception?
Through our broad mandate, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) regulates all packaged food, and all drugs, cosmetics, chemicals, and even bottled water; essentially overall one third of the products that make up the Nigerian economy. With our regulations, we have been able to boost local business, and have promoted exports of value added agricultural products to other countries too. We have also been able to create jobs, stimulate industry, and encourage different countries to come and invest, especially in the areas of the products we regulate. Recently we have been able to get the mutual approval of some of our medical manufacturing facilities here.
A couple of years ago, the drug industry in Nigeria suffered so heavily from counterfeit products that even neighboring countries refused to import from you. In contrast, today you are exporting drugs to Denmark. What explains this change?
The quality of the medicines did not meet required standards. For example, a 2008 WHO survey showed that more than 64% of the Nigerian antimalarial drugs were either counterfeit or sub-standard. That has dropped to 19.6% today. Nigeria has responded quickly and made its companies manufacture drugs that are certifiably life-saving products.
How do you keep sub-standard or counterfeit products out of the market?
We deploy a diverse, but well-coordinated approach. First and foremost we closely monitor products in conjunction with consumers and security agencies. We involve the consumer and the security agencies to closely monitor products. Nigerian customs and other border control agencies, too, have evolved, as has the standard of regulation and administration. The Nigerian police force, which has developed its monitoring of product quality, has contributed positively, and we engage with all sectors of the economy and educate the youth to work toward our common goal. Identifying counterfeit products has become a complicated process due to technological advances. Former drug barons have reinvested their resources into the manufacturing of counterfeit medicines as a result of the recent crackdown on the illicit narcotics trade. The global market of counterfeit medicines today is worth between $75 billion and $200 billion annually. We have attempted to counter their sophistication by teaching our staff to use scanner equipment that can identify counterfeit medicines on the spot. We are the first country in the world to use this to identify medicines. To help the Nigerian consumer detect fake drugs, we have employed a mobile detection service too, and all drugs must contain an ID code, which is then verified via mobile phone. This enables consumers to check medicines on the market, and secondly, it shows us the areas of the country with an abundance of fake products.
What are the targets for NAFDAC over the coming five years?
First of all, I would like to see more Nigerian companies getting WHO approval. I hope to see Nigeria becoming self-sufficient in the supply of essential medicines that are needed, especially for public health programs. We will be working to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in Nigeria. If we can make most of these products readily available for the Nigerian market, accessible, and at an affordable price and used in the right quantities, we are going to reduce maternal deaths and childhood mortality in the short time. Zinc sulphate is being manufactured for the management of diarrhea, and we are beginning to manufacture dispersible amoxicillin tablets for management of pneumonia in children as well as injectable antibiotics. In short, numerous products are being manufactured locally, with more available to those who need them. The chemicals and the water business are being regulated such that most water-borne diseases are being reduced. By extension public health will be significantly improved, as will the economy, in such a way that foreign investors will find Nigeria a more appealing address overall.