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    Categories: ColumnsInsights

Excellence in technological skills

Levi Obijiofor

There is something highly uplifting about the triumph of five Nigerian school girls at the World Technovation Challenge held in San Francisco, the United States, just last week. All five girls who snatched the gold medal in the competition are students of a secondary school in Onitsha. Their winning entry was a mobile application they developed that helps to identify fake and adulterated pharmaceutical products. Their innovative mobile application is groundbreaking, timely, and valuable to our society.
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In a country with a shredded reputation in the international community, a country known worldwide for the criminal activities of its people and government officials, it is refreshing to see five unpretentious female students rise to fame in an international competition in which they pitted their brains, creative talents, and initiatives against the skills of their peers from other more economically developed countries. It feels great to be identified as a Nigerian right now. The girls are not only world champions but they are also a part of our society.

The achievement of these students shows that good news can also emerge from Nigeria. It is not all bad news all the time. We should celebrate with these students for their profound achievement and the international honour they brought to themselves, their country, their state, and their communities.

There are many reasons why everyone should be proud of the rare demonstration of technological skills by the students. For many years, human health has been endangered by the widespread consumption of fake drugs. Up until their discovery, there was no mobile application that facilitated the detection of fake drugs. A number of people have died because they consumed counterfeit drugs that exacerbated rather than improved their health condition. Adulterated drugs are as dangerous to human health as the consumption of poison.

The pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria has been undermined by the proliferation of fake and adulterated drugs manufactured overseas and imported into the country where they are circulated and marketed to unsuspecting consumers. Some of the fake drugs are also produced locally.

For many years, the National Agency for Foods, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has waged relentless battles against producers and marketers of fake and adulterated drugs both inside and outside the country. The deleterious impact of these drugs on human health cannot be taken too lightly. Many people who trade in fake drugs, including the itinerant market women and teenagers who hawk counterfeit drugs along the streets and at bus terminals, are a part of the network of the merchants of death in Nigeria. But, would the arrest and prosecution of these small-time counterfeit drug hawkers make any significant difference in the government’s war against fake and adulterated drugs?

The challenge is that some of the fake drug hawkers may not know that the products they are marketing are phony. They may not even be aware that it is unlawful for them to trade in fake and counterfeit drugs, although ignorance is never an excuse to commit a crime. Another challenge is that fake drug producers and sellers operate in a criminal network. The arrest of one dealer may not necessarily result in the capture of other dealers or the key players.

The practice of selling fake and adulterated drugs in Nigeria has persisted and indeed is becoming more widespread because the fake drug business is a multibillion naira industry. The producers and marketers go all out to fight and frustrate government policies, security agents, and public officers who are on the trail of the unlawful business.

A television documentary that focused on the life and times of the former boss of NAFDAC, the late Dora Akunyili, which was produced many years ago, acknowledged the dangers of fake and sub-standard drugs that circulate in the markets. The documentary noted that counterfeit drugs “kill by stealth, by failing to cure and by creating drug-resistant killer diseases – fake antibiotics, anti-malarials, drugs for tuberculosis, diabetes, heart disease, intravenous drips, injectables all expertly packaged to look real”.

Indeed, Akunyili said during her time as the director-general of NAFDAC that: “The biggest problem today in terms of counterfeiting is the difficulty in telling the difference between fake and genuine drug. Even the manufacturers of some drugs cannot tell the difference between counterfeit and their drugs.” This is terrifying; a situation in which authentic drug manufacturers could not distinguish between their own products and the counterfeit varieties in the market underscores the level of sophistication adopted by fake drug producers.

READ ALSO: NAFDAC nabs kingpin over supply of fake insecticides

It is an awful situation because, if drug producers could not differentiate between their own products and the counterfeits that circulate in the markets, how could ordinary consumers sort out the fake from the genuine drugs?

It is against this background that we must appreciate the sheer impact of the discovery made by the five female students who won the gold medal at the international challenge in the United States. The mobile application they discovered would help to detect fake drugs in the market. Logically, therefore, it would also reduce the consumption of counterfeit drugs by ordinary citizens. The challenge is to make the mobile application not only accessible but also affordable. If the application is inaccessible to a majority of people and if the cost is prohibitive, its relevance and usefulness to an impoverished population would be meaningless.

The students have set the pace in enhancement of healthcare in Nigeria. The government and the private sector (businesses) must now step in to invest massively by providing funds to further develop and refine the mobile application, to make it widely accessible. The government must reward the students through scholarship offers that will enable them to advance their education to university graduate and postgraduate studies. This is one way to compensate these young pioneers, to recognise and appreciate their achievement in healthcare.

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Re: When a press secretary’s brain snaps

I love reading the Daily Sun newspaper. I felt okay after reading your article entitled “When a press secretary’s brain snaps”. I am not a politician and I do not belong to any political party. A lot of things are going wrong in this country. I have listened to and watched “Comrade” Adams Oshiomhole’s utterances recently. Honestly, it looks to me that he is on a mission to bury the APC with his mouth. He was “selected” in a poorly contested national convention as an undertaker for the APC.

In management, we are taught that failure to plan is planning to fail. Oshiomhole should sit down and articulate the “funeral” programme for his APC rather than acting in a hurry. His directionless APC has inflicted untold hardships on citizens. He said he would rather be an attack dog than eating mushrooms. No wonder he attacks everybody. He talks uncontrollably and arrogantly. You could see with ease that his speeches lack coherence. If the comrade is empty, what do you expect from someone who carries his “bag” and parades himself as press secretary?

– Nnamdi Agoha (ACA)

Tokunbo David :Sun News Online team writer and news editor

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