Ministry of Death: Fake Drugs Division

With the crash in the value of societal morals, people are prepared to reach alarming extents in a bid to acquire wealth. If you think that there is any limit to the Ministry of Death’s terms of reference, forget it! The Fake Drugs Division proudly trumpets its achievements, and it is rapidly recruiting new staff members.

Recently, I came across a story in The Vanguard. It detailed the arrest and arraignment of a certain businessman for the ignominious charge of distributing fake drugs. The drug in question is “COF N’ COLD”, which from the name, resolves issues with cough and cold, a common problem in this part of the world. Imagine such a drug being faked!

This is not the first time Nigerians are hearing about the activity of drug fakers. Periodically, news reports surface about the arrest of one drug faker or the other. It used to be an egregious topic in everyday discussion, but has being pushed behind by worries about Boko Haram and the state of the economy. While counterfeiters make their money, Nigerians pay the price with their blood.

Every year, thousands of Nigerians die from the effects of ingested drugs. In a country where health facilities are either inexistent, overstretched, or expensive, many of Nigeria’s citizens depend on drugs bought over the counter to provide relief to their health problems. It is therefore a sad irony that something that is expected to save lives is the very thing that rudely ends them. Drugs used in hospitals are not even left out. Lives are lost while a set of individuals amass filthy lucre.

I wonder how it feels to have a business model that involves deception and cutting lives in their prime, a model that depends on shamelessly exploiting lapses in the regulatory system. It is granted that every capitalist system involves exploiting some lapse or profit potential or the other. However, capitalism can coexist with ethics, especially in a health sector famous for its Hippocratic Oath. There is definitely profit for those who sell genuine drugs. Why then does someone choose to sell a fake version?

Regulatory lapses have allowed swindlers to continue to enjoy higher profit margins from faking drugs. Nigerians last saw a spirited effort against fake drugs when the late Prof. Dora Akunyili held sway as the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). She was famous for going after drug counterfeiters to an unusual extent perhaps instigated by the death of her sister from the use of a counterfeited product. This drive led to death threats and a murder attempt that provided a platform for the gift of a bulletproof car.

After the Amazonian Dora, Nigerians have not seen that drive in NAFDAC. The agency appears to have gone to sleep, leaving counterfeiters to ply their trade with Nigerian lives. At a time the agency should be “safeguarding the health of the nation”, media reports pointed to infighting and allegations of financial impropriety against the agency’s head.

Despite my bashing of NAFDAC, I must commend them for what they have done well. Some anti-malaria drugs and some other medical products now contain an enclosed pin to verify their genuineness. On scratching the silvery coating, and texting the code to a prescribed number via a free SMS, a return SMS informs the sender whether the concerned product is a genuine one. However, in my estimation, NAFDAC has not done enough to enlighten Nigerians about this verification method. Thus, not many are aware, potentially curtailing the efficacy of this system.

There remains a lot to be done to get fake drugs out of the Nigerian market. This would require the commitment of the government and its agencies, pharmacists and other health professionals, and the Nigerian public. Nigerians need to be properly educated on the right avenues to procure drugs in order to avoid swindlers. At the same time, enforced quality control should ensure that those prescribed avenues never come in possession of fake drugs. In addition, improved intelligence gathering, location, interception, confiscation and destruction of fake drugs, alongside expedited prosecution of counterfeiters should serve as a deterrent. Licensed drug sellers should face ruinous fines if the sale of fake drugs is proven against them.

By eradicating a willing market, people will be discouraged from entering the field of counterfeiting. Some would retract their steps and begin legal profiting from selling genuine products. Stakeholders also need to look at the profit model in the drug industry to see if any extraneous limitation exists that may encourage counterfeiting. A holistic approach will be of immense help to Nigeria.

Until the fight against fake drugs becomes turbocharged, the fake drugs division will continue to recruit new staff. However, a holistic war on all possible fronts will greatly degrade that division, and if diligently continued, the Ministry of Death may someday shut down its fake drugs division.

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