By CHARLES NWAOGUJI
Director General and Chief Executive of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NADFAC), Dr. Paul Orhii, is one man with no comparison when it comes to quality service delivery and love for other peoples’ lives. He believes that it is possible to win the war against fake drugs in the country, which is the primary objective of NADFAC.
He also believes that dying for others is the best sacrifice, especially when one is fighting the right course for humanity. “I believe in dying for a cause that is worth it…that is saving lives. I have given myself to fight against fake drugs and make the society free from sub-standard products. I don’t care what that would cost me,” he said. Right now, his major desire is to make Nigeria a fake-drug-free society, and he has shown this by the way he has been tackling the issue at the ministry level. Since Orhii assumed duty as the head of the food and drug organisation, he has transformed NAFDAC into a world class agency, by providing infrastructure that is the envy of other parastatals in the country.
He provided these facilities so that fake drugs and sub-standard products would be a thing of the past. He has also upgraded all the laboratories in the agency to world class standards. In this interview, the NAFDAC boss spoke extensively on challenges of fighting fake drugs, his efforts so far in the area of human capacity management and the achievements made. Excerpts:
NAFDAC, over the years, has been one of the agencies with very credible directors general. I am the third DG of NAFDAC, my predecessors are credible people. The first DG, Professor Osunde, was an outstanding academic. He set the infrastructure on ground and started the agency. And then by 2001, it was headed by Prof. Dora Akunyili, who took the war against fake drugs to an enviable height. From 40 per cent, the fight came down to about 16.7 per cent in 2005. So, when I took over in 2009, I pledged to continue the battle till I achieve success. The achievements made, so far, was as a result of the past good leadership on which shoulders I’m standing. So, I say to myself: ‘I am going to sustain all they had achieved and move the agency forward.’
Today, the agency is rated as one of the agencies in the world fighting against fake drugs with modern facilities. And that is what I have done so far.
The war against fake drugs, unfortunately, is not something that is stable. But within a short time, we have been able to reduce the issue of counterfeit medicine in the country. We are not only sustaining the war against counterfeit medicine but I can confidently tell you that we have been able to reduce counterfeit medicine to less than five per cent in the cities. The situation is not as good in the rural areas because many people there are less educated and mostly poor. And so, we have checked and saw the incidence of counterfeit medicine in the rural areas are as much as 10 to 15 per cent high.
The organization is credible, like I told you. NAFDAC was well known by people before I came in as DG. It is an organization that has a lot of respect. What I am doing is to give real meaning to the respect. Like I told you, when I came here some of the buildings were totally uninhabitable, and many people will attest to that. Our laboratories were completely down. The staff building was nothing to write home about. When our building got burnt in 2004, we moved to porter cabins. The cabins were completely bad. The Air conditioners, most times, were not working. Too many people were jampacked into it. But when I came in, I said let us try to improve the situation. As you can see, the cabins have completely been re-built. We have put the air conditioners in order and, I think, the place is now habitable. So, these are some of the things we have done.
Our laboratories that were out of order are now working perfectly. We have refurbished the Yaba Laboratory into a modern one. We have also completed, expanded and upgraded the laboratory in Anambra State, which was commissioned by the President himself. The laboratory is well equipped to international standard. The Oshodi Laboratory has also been completed. And very soon, we will start working on the Kaduna and Calabar Laboratories as well. We tend to do these in the near future.
Are you comfortable with the level of fight against fake drugs?
I am not comfortable yet. We have made considerable progress but I will only be comfortable when we know we have totally eradicated fake drugs and sub-standard products in the country. And not just that…I hope they will never come back. We want a situation where, when compared with advanced countries like the United Stated of America, Canada and Britain, we would be ahead. Not just because we want to be there, but we are already one of the top drug agencies in the world. Nigeria belongs to this group, and we want to sustain it. We are the only such agency in Africa that has attained this level. We don’t want to chase the counterfeit drugs and substandard products dealers around; it is not sustainable, considering the nature of our porous borders. So, we are trying to put measures in place that will eradicate counterfeit or substandard products in the country, before I leave office.
I think, to a large extent, we have trained many of our staff within the past few years. This is what the agency has never done before. Apart from that, we are working with the industry, we are not just some crazy agency finding faults in order to close down others businesses. We have become friends with the industry. We work closely with the sector. People that want to set-up industry come to us now. We send out our staff to supervise and help them get it right from the beginning. Instead of waiting for them to finish building, and then say ‘you did this wrong, shut down!’ Now we consult with them as they progress. We have consulted for a company like Juike Pharmaceuticals. That is the biggest pharmaceutical company in Africa with modern German technology. We supervised them from the beginning when they started building at Akwo in Anambra State, and now they are one of the best. In fact, it was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan himself. We have also done the same with May & Baker here in Lagos. They have one of the modern facilities, which was commissioned last year. We are currently bringing experts from World Health Organization (WHO) to train our manufacturing companies, so that they can comply with international standards. We want a situation where 70 per cent of essential medicines from other countries are manufactured here in Nigeria. But the quality should be the same with what are obtainable in advanced countries. We should be an exporter of medicine to other parts of the world, and not just a consumer and importer of such products. And we are already working on that. We know that funding could be a challenge, so we have arranged with the Bank of Industry (BoI) and we have proposed to the Federal Government, and the President is eagerly waiting for it to come through. He has vested interest in seeing the revival of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria. So we have proposed a N200 billion development fund. We hope this would give loan at good interest rate to help the pharmaceutical companies to develop.
There are lots of benefits if the industry is developed. The sector will satisfy our local needs and support; earn foreign exchange for the country. Apart from these, it will create employment opportunities for Nigerians.
I think Nigerians have a very high confidence in what we do at NAFDAC. The people also know that we are doing our best. With the support of the media and the good people of Nigeria, I think we will succeed. The media have contributed a lot to the advancement of the agency by publishing our programmes. This is an agency some people believe goes about closing people’s shops and businesses and, as a result, they run away from us. But we have educated and assured them that NAFDAC is an institution that tries to teach you the right way of doing business and making more profits. For instance, some people try to export made-in-Nigeria foodstuffs, and we say to them, ‘come to us, we will offer free training, free approval.’ We will evaluate the products based on the need of the country they are exporting such products to. We look at the countries and make sure that the foodstuffs they intended to export conformed to their standards, so that they are not rejected. But if they continue to go behind us to export the products, it is only when they meet with rejection that they call on us to come in. Sometimes, such products are not only rejected but they are forced to pay fines in the foreign lands…and that is only when we are informed. So we need to let the masses know exactly what we do, and that is what informed the starting of a programme called ‘NAFDAC and your Health’ on TV. Now, you hear more on radio because we want to reach all the corners of this country – the poor masses across the country – to educate them about our activities. That is why we rely very heavily on the media to help us tell the people about what we do. It is not about propaganda, but about public enlightenment, so that if Nigerians know exactly what we do; exactly what is required of them and exactly where they can help us, I think they would be more active in helping to achieve our mandate…by calling us and giving us information, or offering their own suggestions on the best way they think we should be able to be more effective in carrying out our mandate.
My projection is that in the next two years, one or two Nigerian companies should benefit from WHO qualification so that they could produce locally made drugs to serve Nigerians and export their products to other countries. These products should be affordable to Nigerians so that we can increase access to good quality medicine in this country and may be eliminate most of these fake drugs out of the system. I’m looking forward to the time when Nigeria would be producer and exporter of medicine and become less importer of medicine.?
Strategy for success
My strategy for success is getting every stakeholder and my staff involved in building process. If you observed recently, all my staff are involved in the activities of the agency. I don’t have to be the only one to be involved in the activities of the agency. Any NAFDAC staff can perform any function given to him or her, whether I’m there or not. The whole country depends on them. And because they are aware now that the whole country is depending on them to do their job right, everybody is participating. It is not about me, it is just about NAFDAC. It is not about getting credit, it is about getting the job done right. It is not about who gets the credit but about who is getting the job done and safeguarding the health of Nigerian.
Of course, we have been training our staff, improving their welfare and most importantly improving the infrastructure of the agency. Then technology is way forward which Nigeria cannot leave. That is why immediately we employ any staff, we bought them laptop and connected them on-line. Now all the top management staff is connected to internet, so that they can do any report, wherever they are. We are looking at a situation whereby registered products can be on line, so that you can be anywhere in the world and make registration of any product on-line. We give them the guidelines on the requirement of each products. Before I came to NAFDAC, it was not possible but it is different story. Now once the application are completed and the required fee paid then the products are processed for final approval.
These are the things, we have done. Cut-edge technology will help us check fake product in the system.
Unfortunately, I do not have the figures on my hand, but we have trained thousands of staff across the country in different countries: India, USA, Canada, China etc on different courses. Even here in Nigeria, we have had experts that have come from USA to train our staff on food safety. We have set up a Food safety Committee in the country now to make sure the food we consume here is safe. So we have done a lot of training, we have also brought experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) to train us on good manufacturing practices. The fast food outlet? We are trying to look at them from the perspective of good hygiene practices. A lot has been done on that area but I cannot give you definite figures now.
The major constraints facing us is funding. Funding has been our constraints and aside funding is staffing. With that kind of vast coverage, we have less than 2000 staff across the 36 states and Abuja. You can imagine a state with 44 local government areas, we have less than 40 staff and two vehicles. With this, how do you cover the state effectively. A situation like Lagos, how do you cover the industries in that state effectively. You know in Lagos, you cannot cover two or three trips in a day, once you go, that is all for the day. There are other problems we have but technology we use has helped us to enhance effectiveness. We are not complaining but this is the realty on the ground. Every issue you look at is tied to funding.If we have more money, we will have more staff, more equipment and we could have our presence in all the 779 local government areas across the country.
We are relying on the media to get across to the people. Even though, we are not in all the areas of the country, we have people who listen to radio, who read newspapers and watch TV. So it is like we have eyes in every local government area and people are calling us to go there and wrap off fake drugs. Also technology is helping us as I told you earlier.
The consumers are the largest stakeholders because they are the ones who are ultimately going to consume the products. We decided that Nigerian consumers should be protected because over 70 million Nigerians use fake products and they are very convenient with the fake products. So we decided to put the power of decision/detection of counterfeit drug in the hands of the Nigerian consumers. As we speak, if you go into store and buy any drug manufactured by GSK on the treatment of malaria, you find something like scratch cards, you scratch this card, you will see a pin number, enter it into cell phone. Within some seconds , you will receive message whether the product has been registered by NAFDAC or not. If so, what registration number is supposed to be on that product? Who manufactured such product? The address of the manufacturer and the expiration date and it goes on to give you basic information on the things you need to know about the product. You compare the text message you receive and what is written on that product. If they do not march, then you know it is fake product in your hand. Once you note that you report to NAFDAC immediately and we will send our staff to go and remove all the fake products in that store. So we have been able to extend our service to 70 million Nigerians. We are getting a lot of testimonies and information about these fake products across the country which making us more effective.
War against fake drugs
NAFDAC has the network of well co-ordinated strategies in place. It is like a net, which will make it difficult for anyone to operate or sell fake drugs in any part of the country. We have not taken different strategies like media campaign; counterfeit cannot thrive in a culture where the issue of fake drugs is treated very well. We want the people to know and report to us whenever they see counterfeit drugs. We want a collaboration with our people. We want a situation where, we can walk up to the Customs and demand the content of any container. We have e-clearance system; we have worked it out with customs together. The e-clearance allows us within 24 hours to clear products as they come, we just look at them. If the paper work is right and if there is any suspicion, the computer will print it out immediately and it will divide the products into various categories. If it is green, it means it can go. But if it is yellow, it means it is a little bit suspicions. We should check it. If it is red, it means we have to make full examination of the container. This has helped us to know the counterfeit product easily. We don’t have to open the product to begin to check because they come from reliable source. Everything is right, the examination is right and this could show within hour or 24 hours. Then we are left with those with suspicion. Just when you put the container on a device, it can tell you whether the container is genuine or fake. It breaks the products in the containers into various categories. What percentage it contains, and of what. When I came to NAFDAC, what I met on ground was every product, we have to take them to laboratory for analysis.”
Sometimes, it used to take months before the result come out and then the customs would be hurrying us that they want this product cleared and we were wasting their time. So there are some strategies, we have adopted since I came on board. Working with the media on public enlightenment, collaboration within the country and international collaboration where we are having international medicinal products counterfeit task force made up 193 member states.