By Dan-Maryam Zayamu
The House of Representatives Committee on Healthcare Services, has angrily invited the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, to explain his efforts towards tackling fake and substandard drugs in the country.
This follows the failure of the Minister to present a position at the public hearing on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods Act.
The amendment Act also makes provisions for the prohibition and control of counterfeit medical products, fake drugs and unwholesome processed foods and for related matters.
The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Tanko Sununu, however, raised the alarm that counterfeit, unwholesome food products and fake drugs are causing havoc and destroying the country’s economy.
He expressed displeasure over the failure of the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, to present the position of the Ministry on the Bill and therefore, summoned him to explain the steps his ministry has taken to reduce the menace of fake and substandard drugs in the country.
The Bill was sponsored by Hon Tanko Sununu and Hon Samuel Babatunde Adejare.
The Committee chairman who was visibly angry for the inability of the minister to appear and make submission on behalf of the Ministry of Health said that the action of the Minister was uncalled for.
He explained 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 Bills. I mentioned earlier that take 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 the World Health Organisation (WHO) is at the level of 70 to 75 per cent and if you cannot provide drug for somebody and you still allow him to go and buy fake drugs or poison, its not fair.
“We are trying to find 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 its position known to the general public.
“I made several calls this morning to confirm if the ministry is represented, I think the earlier the ministry know that they are accountable to Nigerians, the better.
“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 lapses 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 his ministry has done in protecting the country from the menace of fake drugs and also to make their presentation.”
In his input, the former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Fake and Counterfeit drugs, Pharmacist Hashim Ubale Yusufu, suggested that the enforcement of the provisions of the Act should be vested in an independent body.
“I propose it should be vested in a Task Force domiciled under the Ministry of health; the said Task force 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, according to him, will substantially change the structure and legal framework of dealing with the menace of Substandard and falsified medical products.
Responding to questions from journalists, Pharm Ubale, 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 authorization. That is the work of NAFDAC.
“With a lot of work that NAFDAC was doing, at a point, there was a lot of 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, insisted that: “The Task Force need to be independent. If we place it in NAFDAC, the morale will be low, the funding will be very poor.”
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 Ijiofor, Director Investigation and Enforcement of NAFDAC as well as the Chairman of 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 drug.
“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 United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).”
On why the repeal of the NAFDAC Act was important, she 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 pocked and pay the fine and just walk out of the Court. But NAFDAC have been fighting. We all recall the case of my pikin drug where 83 infants were killed as a result of the injection of teething mixture. We know we don’t keep good record in our country, I know it could be more than 83.
“Now we have a law which will address all that. We have a law which prescribed life jail term. 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 new body. NAFDAC is behind you and we support this bill whole heartedly. “
The President, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr Uche Rowland Ojinmah, said that his group was in support of the Bill. He, however, said that “we wish to suggest the amendment of the proposed Section 8 as it relates to the constitution
of the National and States Committees respectively to include a representative of the medical practitioners which shall be appointed by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN).
“It is our considered opinion that the addition of a representative of prescribers to the respective committees mentioned above will make for better coordination of the Committees, and ease of dissemination of vital information that could save the end users from the deleterious effects of fake and counterfeit drugs.”