The Director General of National Agency for Foods and Drug Administration and Control, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye made a shocking revelation recently in Lagos when she said that 80 percent of her agency’s equipment is not working.
Interestingly, she made the revelation while receiving members of the Senate Committee on Health who were in Lagos on a fact finding mission of state of affairs of federal health institutions located in Lagos state.
The NAFDAC boss also used the opportunity of the occasion to inform her guests that the last time officials of the World Health Organisation visited NAFDAC Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos, the agency was scored zero by the global health watchdog.
Prof. Adeyeye’s revelation is commendable and indicates that her administration is prepared to take the agency to greater heights if given the requisite support from government. The revelation also shows that NAFDAC boss would not settle for half measures because such could compromise the integrity of the all-important agency in the health sector.
It is however, worrisome that a strategic agency of government saddled with the sensitive role of ensuring that the health of Nigerian population is safeguarded, lacks adequate equipment to discharge its constitutionally assigned obligations in line with internationally acceptable standards.
NAFDAC has a responsibility to review the results of Laboratories, animal and human clinical testing done by manufacturers of food and medicines – to ensure that products to be consumed by Nigerians meet approved standards.
Any product that is NAFDAC approved is expected to have been analysed, examined and tested, and its benefits found to outweigh its potential risk. That is the standard expectations from the agency, but such rigorous tasks are usually undertaken by using specialised equipment and not bare hands.
Apart from preventing quackery, NAFDAC approval ensures consumers and health-care professionals have the information they need to use drugs wisely. It also gives them the assurance that the drugs, brand-name or generics, have passed stringent quality checks, are effective and their benefits outweigh any risks.
In a situation where the agency is so highly incapacitated in terms of equipment requirements, the approval process of food and medicinal products may take a longer time to complete, and that could slow the pace of investment in the pharmaceutical sector.
But it is more disturbing to hear that the current capacity of equipment requirement of NAFDAC could not pass WHO’s tests ostensibly because they are not of international standards. And if that is the case the health of millions of Nigerians could be exposed to risks of catastrophic proportions if it is not urgently addressed.
There are potential risks to health from the growing list of packaged foods, table water, sachet water, and herbal remedies that are daily being consumed by the larger populace of Nigerians if the country continues to rely on results from equipment that could not meet international standards.
The consequences of this bad news to the image of the nation and the health of its population could be enormous. Apart from deepening the negative label of the country as one of the lowest in international ranking of health systems, there is also the possibility that Nigeria would soon become a dumpsite for medicines of Bad Manufacturing Practice outcomes emanating from countries like India and China.
On the other hand, for a country that depends largely on 70-80 percent of its prescription drug needs from imports, it is expected that authorities in NAFDAC would carry out comprehensive premarket safety and efficacy testing before issuing its approval. The state of equipment to be used to achieve reliable results in this regard has already placed that important assignment in jeopardy as a result of the latest development. The country needs to learn a lesson from some countries that neglected the safety tests and premarket requirements of medicines.
For instance, over 100 people reportedly died in the United States after taking a new but untested Sulfanilamide elixir sometime around 1938. Similarly, when Thalidomide, a sedative taken by pregnant women to relieve morning sickness and aid sleep caused thousands of European babies to be born with birth defects, the United States Congress had to enact what is now popularly known as 1962 Kefauver-Harris Amendments. These are historical evidences that should be reflected upon by the Nigerian authorities on the current issue if it really takes the health of the citizenry seriously.
There is no better time to give NAFDAC adequate tools, manpower and logistical support to safeguard the health of the nation than now.