The year 2017 was a mixed grill of events and issues, be it locally or on the international arena. For instance, as the stubborn issue of drug faking continued like a recurrent decimal, the relevant authorities have also continued to sharpen …their skills as government agencies within the period destroyed the singular largest seizure of fake drugs in 30 years! In this cover compilation, PharmaTimes Editor, MORGAN NWANGUMA highlights some of the landmark issues and events, including the highs as well as the lows in the pharmaceutical and medical health landscape of the out gone year.
Early in the year the Honourable Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole was in Port-Harcourt to commission the South-South Zonal Office of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Rivers State. This the Minister made known to the public while speaking at the occasion, stating that the gesture was symbolic.
Speaking during the event the Minister charged NAFDAC to live up to its responsibility by ensuring that the health of Nigerians is adequately protected from the hazards of fake and unwholesome drugs – by completely getting rid of them. He felicitated with the agency and reminded it of the deadly consequences posed by the presence of fake medicines in the health of the populace. Adewole noted that an upsurge of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) the world over is as a result of these fake drugs being fed to animals, which are in turn consumed by humans.
And then, in a related development, the Minister leading a team of stakeholders destroyed the largest consignment of fake and unwholesome drugs ever in 30 years. He described the drugs which were intercepted by the joint activities of officials of NAFDAC, Customs, NDLEA, as well as other related agencies, as routine drugs which are constantly in demand by the consuming public. He therefore urged the health professionals to work closely in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry to ensure to plug the gap of inadequate availability of quality, and locally produced drugs for the Nigerian market and consumer. This gap, he said is what the producers and importers of fake and unwholesome drugs capitalise upon to flood the Nigerian market with their dangerous merchandise.
Also, early in the year NAFDAC reacted to a court ruling declaring major soft drinks – Fanta and Sprite poisonous – when combined with Vitamin C. In a statement, it argued that “the WHO/FAO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives in 1997 adopted an ADI of 0.5mg/kg body weight for benzoates. The Codex Committee on Food Adiitives in 2004 adopted the Maximum use level for sodium, potassium, calcium benzoates and benzoic acid at the level of 600ppm for Food Category 14.1.4, which comprises water based drinks like Fanta, Coke and Sprite and others. This is the base level approved for the whole world. Some countries are using even higher levels.”
Following this, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, (NAFDAC) filed an appeal and a motion to stay execution of the judgement on Sprite and Fanta soft drinks. Meanwhile an Igbosere High Court had ordered the Agency to compel the Nigerian Bottling Company, NBC, Plc, to carry a mandatory warning on its Fanta and Sprite products, stating that the contents should not be taken with Vitamin C in order to avoid poisoning.
The court berated NAFDAC for poor regulation of the products, popular among millions of Nigerians as it delivered judgement in a suit filed by Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited and Emmanuel Adebo against the NBC and NAFDAC, and awarded a N2 million cost against NAFDAC, declaring that the Agency failed Nigerians by certifying Fanta and Sprite fit for human consumption even when they were later tested and declared unfit for human consumption in the United Kingdom.
In March the Lagos State Ministry of Health began a medical mission that reached out to all nooks and crannies of the state. At the end of the exercise the mission was able to provide free healthcare services to residents of the state across the 20 Local Governments Areas, as well as the 37 Local Council Development Areas.
Elsewhere, in a hotly contested students’ annual pharmacy debate, the University of Ibadan defeated their Obafemi Awolowo University counterparts at the 2017 edition of Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS) debate.
It was on the 4th of March when the Faculty of Pharmacy, OAU played host in the 3rd Annual Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi Debate Competition which was instituted in 2014; the event held at its new pharmacy complex. The contestants coming from the host University and only one guest institution, University of Ibadan (because most of others were not in session) under the auspices of Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS) were confronted with topical issues such as – “NHIS: A Worthwhile Endeavour in the Expansion of Access to Quality Health Care?”; “Nigeria’s Macroeconomic Policy: A Vital Tool in the Quest for Self-Sustenance in the Mainstream Sector”; and “Brain Drain in Developing Countries: A Form of Neo-Colonialistic Exploitation or the Inevitable Price of Inadequacy?”
About mid-year, well deserving individuals and organisations in health and related endeavours were honoured at the annual Nigerian Healthcare Excellence Award (NHEA) events in Lagos. On the very night Professor Ibironke Akinsete, Pharm. (Mazi) Sam Ohuabunwa, Lagoon Hospitals, etc. shone brightly as they were publicly honoured.
The event which was well attended, and full of razzmatazz, was also the fêting of high achievers who gathered to receive tributes and accolades in a colourful ceremony in which also, PharmaTimes was awarded a nomination certificate in the print-media category.
In August the Nigerian Senate set up a probe to look into the sale and consumption of 42 banned Anti-Malarials. The Senate had mandated its Committee on Health to commence investigations into the sale and circulation in the country of 42 anti-malaria drugs banned by the European Union (EU). The decision of Senate followed a motion by Senator Theodore Orji (PDP-Abia Central) during plenary in Abuja.
Presenting the motion on the floor of the Senate, Orji said that the drugs, which were banned by the EU, were still being sold and consumed in the country. Citing a report available to him, the senator said the reasons given for the blacklisting of the 42 drugs in EU member countries is that they are considered dangerous and linked to cause of kidney failure.
The lawmaker expressed alarm that “the 42 drugs are still being stock-piled, sold and consumed in Nigeria,” saying NAFDAC and SON have not adequately addressed the issue. Consequent upon this the Senate Committee on Health, chaired by Sen. Olanrewaju Tejuoso invited the then Ag. DG NAFDAC, Mrs. Yetunde Oni, on the matter.
In a swift reaction to the matter however, President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Pharm. Ahmed Yakassai, picked holes on the matter describing it as stale news. In an interview with the Leadership newspaper, the PSN helmsman said that the drugs being listed as banned were monotherapy drugs which Nigeria no more uses. According to him, Nigeria had adopted a combination therapy guidelines approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the treatment of Malaria.
As we stepped into the last quarter of 2017 another serious viral epidemic broke out in the country. This time it was Monkey Pox outbreak. The monkey pox which started in Bayelsa State on September 22 spread to many other places. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control collected samples for laboratory testing, and sooner than later the disease was put under perfect control. At least 16 states including Abuja – the federal Capital Territory had cases of suspected Monkey pox infection.
The year was later to be a most rewarding one for the American trio of Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash, of Brandeis University, as well as Michael Young of Rockefeller University, as they shared a Nobel Prize for their breakthrough work on the circadian rhythm. The American scientists shared the 2017 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for their convincing work on the way our bodies work. Circadian rhythm which is referred to as the body clock explains the reasons behind the behaviours and functions of the body; it is the biological time – a daily cycle of activity observed in many living organisms.
The evil merchants sure showed themselves in more than one way – not just the fake and substandard drug dealers, but also illegal human organ traffickers were on the prowl last year in other lands. To this effect, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Health issued a public warning concerning some 41 suspected human kidney traffickers who were facing trial in Egypt. Authoritative sources say the illegal trade has grown recently to be worth in the excess of about $1.2 billion annually.
According to The Times of London, a former trafficker – Mouredin Atta, was quoted as saying that “African migrants who cannot pay for their passage to Europe were being sold for $15,000 to Egyptians who harvest their organs” for transplanting. The Federal Ministry of Health therefore urged all medical doctors to be fully aware of the dubious activities of such unscrupulous gangs; it cautioned Nigerians who may be embarking on medical tourism to foreign lands to be more “circumspect”.
In the course of the year Nigeria’s First DNA Forensic Laboratory was set up by the Lagos State government. The state thus appears to be fully geared towards changing the criminal justice system in the land by completing the construction and opening Nigeria’s first ever high-powered DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) Forensic Laboratory. This was made public by the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem.
The DNA Forensic laboratory is aimed at helping solve the issue of crime in the state; it will also help to deal with other DNA issues such as paternity matters – by the deployment of advanced technology. The lab also will further help to accomplish high and urgent need for DNA profiling – an advanced and special forensic technique which has long been in use in the advanced world.
In September, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), in alliance with its foreign partners, GPE EXPO PVT Ltd. successfully staged the 4th Lagos International Pharma Manufacturing Expo. It was a three-day international Exhibition on Complete Pharma Manufacturing, as well as Lab Expo, with an impressive turnout of participants from mainly India, China, Nigeria, Japan, Ireland and Bangladesh, etc.
The expo featured about 116 exhibiting companies represented in pharmaceutical and allied equipment manufacturing, and processing. A remarkable impression gathered from the outing is the fact that India’s pharma manufacturing, and engineering capabilities have progressed rapidly over the recent decades to the amazement of technology watchers. China also, which is already acknowledged as an industrial giant, has shown that it is a force that is out to dominate in the very near future.
And then, Sickle Cell Group – the Sickle cell Support Society of Nigeria (SCSSN) and Pfizer in a 3-day conference aimed at enhancing the treatment, management and control of sickle cell disease in Nigeria, joined their voices to seek partnership with government. The forum which held in Enugu was themed “Reducing the burden of Sickle cell disease in our communities” drew participants, stakeholders, partners and sponsors from different parts of the world, and concluded with sterling outcomes.
This gathering featured mainly a pre-conference workshop with community health workers in the state. The keynote speaker, Professor of Haematology at the Muhumbili University of Tanzania, Lucio Luzzatto, in his address agreed with the call by concerned stakeholders on the government to pass a bill on sickle cell control and management so as to better insure the lives of the people living with sickle cell disease.
But the year 2017 did not end without the annual gathering of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) which is its national conference. This time it was a ground breaking 90th edition during which ‘Medicines Availability and National Security’ was the talking point. The confab which took place in Umuahia, the Abia State capital brought to the fore great implications of what the availability or otherwise of medicines could have indirectly on the country and her citizens including security. It was one that promises far reaching impacts as it came up with a communiqué with action packed recommendations.
The conference noted unequivocally that unavailability of medicines and vaccines is a huge security risk to the Nigeria populace and called on Government and all relevant stakeholders to prioritise local production of drugs to ensure availability of medicines at all times.