Editorial

Banned Anti-Malaria Drugs: NAFDAC must step up game

Probably if the senate did not alert the nation about the banned anti malaria drugs in some European countries, it would not have attracted the attention it deserved. This is so because Nigerians had began talking about the ban for days without the appropriate agency responding in kind. All the same, we are relived that eventually, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) rightly debunked media reports on the circulation of ‘killer’ anti-malaria drugs in the country. Prior to this disclaimer, the media had been awash with reports both in conventional and social media that about 22 anti-malaria drugs banned by the European Union, EU were circulating and being consumed in the country.
However, at a news conference in Lagos to douse the tension caused by the reports, the Acting Director-General of the agency, Dr. Yetunde Oni, said the reports on the “killer malaria” drugs were false. Stressing that no such harmful drugs were circulating in the country. she explained that the rumoured banned drugs are what is scientifically called oral “monotherapies” that contain single Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API). These include Artesunate, as contained in Arinate tablets; Amodiaquine, contained in Camoquine; Dihydroartemisinin, contained in Alaxin tablets; and Pyrimethamine, in Daraprim tablets, which are not recommended for malaria. However, the agency assured Nigerians of its commitment to their wellbeing. It also enjoined Nigerians to continue to use the recommended anti-malaria medicine, Artemisin Combination Therapies (ACTs), for malaria treatment in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Anti-malarial Policy.
We nonetheless commend NAFDAC for this intervention and applaud the Senate whose recent criticism of NAFDAC and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) for not doing enough in the war against influx of fake and substandard drugs in the country might have prompted NAFDAC’s reaction. While the denial of the circulation of dangerous anti-malaria drugs in the country is welcome, we urge NAFDAC to enlighten the public on how to identify harmful malaria drugs or in fact how to identify the good ones beyond the scratch panels. The agency ought to ensure that banned drugs are not allowed to enter and circulate in the country. Regular checks with pharmacies and patent medicine stores plus checks at markets will help. We say this bearing in mind that some unprincipled Nigerians can do anything to make money, including importing substandard and counterfeit anti-malaria drugs.
Although in this matter, the issue was about the proper combination for antimalaria drugs, not necessarily because they are fake. It is important Nigerians know the difference that indeed the recommended type of anti malarial drug is the combined ACTs type not the single type. Therefore, the speculation that drugs banned in other countries at times come into Nigeria should also worry the agency. These are issues that NAFDAC should be seriously concerned with. The agency should go back to the basics and pursue with vigour the war against fake drugs and sub-standard drug products in Nigeria.The war is not yet over. This is the time it should   clamp down on drug hawkers, peddlers and illegal drug stores in the country. It is vital that NAFDAC leverages on earlier successes recorded in the use of the anti-counterfeiting technology, the Scratch and Text, to monitor fake drugs.
We, consequently welcome NAFDAC’s decision to deploy technology in tracking standardized products via software on phones to check the status of any of its regulated products. It should do so without further delay to reassure the people and check the influx of fake products in the country. We strongly believe that close monitoring is important in ridding the country of banned drugs. NAFDAC should increase its presence at all our air, land and sea borders. There is also the urgent need to emphasis pre-shipment and post-shipment inspection of all drugs imported into the country.
This is where we also call on the Senate and the House of Representatives to increase funding for this agency. National Assembly must also emphasis oversight to ensure the agency performs its role. Government on the other hand must take the issue of NAFDAC seriously. It is a shame that for two years, the agency hasn’t got a substantive head in spite of the importance of the agency. Also, government must create enabling environment for more drugs to be manufactured in Nigeria instead of this massive importation. 180 million people need a serious drug manufacturing sector. The over-dependence on imported drugs for most of our drug needs is the major reason fake and sub-standard medicines find their way into Nigeria. 

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