Thought Leadership Series

Where is your NAFDAC number?

You might not have heard a lot about him, but NAFDAC actually does have a “new” Director General, Dr Paul Orhii. A Russian trained doctor, he holds a PhD in medicine, and has a Juris Doctor degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at the Texas Southern University. After initial debate about his suitability for the job, and links with our most reverred Attorney General. Now he seems ready to make his mark….

He recently called “a world press conference” in Abuja where he proposed a new law, advocating for the death penalty or life-jail term for manufacturers and distributors of fake drugs, especially in situations where it is determined that such medicines caused death or injury.

Wow …the death penalty!

This has led us to have a think at the Nigerian pharmaceatical “market”.

This article in 234Next describes the Idumota open drug market, the Sabongeri market of Kano and the Onitsha Head Bridge Market, which was reopened in 2008 after it was closed by NAFDAC in 2007 for drug counterfeiting. All three are still fledging OPEN markets where anyone can walk in and buy the most potent medicines….anyone!

Do not ask me if these medicines are kept at the temperatures many of them have to be kept in to preserve their efficacy. In fact, the the same article outlines a report by the University of Lagos College of Medicine, showing that most of these medicines failed a sensitivity test.

Are all the traders in Idumota open drug market, the Sabongeri market of Kano and the Onitsha Head Bridge Market facing the death penalty if the medicines they sell, lead to a therapeutic failure and death? Wow…

Yes, of course we advocate for a sanitisation of the medicine, industry in Nigeria and yes we do hope that one day we will find the leadership to provide this, but we suggest that we need to move beyond world press conferences! This is just one step ahead of calling the press together to burn medicines in public, then proclaiming across several newspaper pages that they had successfully burnt drugs worth millions of naira. This is still being done by NAFDAC in 2009!

What are our governments and NAFDAC doing to provide institutional alternatives to these markets? We celebrated the innovative idea of a modern drug store to be handled by professionals such as  the one built by the Segun Oni-led government of Ekiti state opened by the NAFDAC boss himself!. How many have been built since then? Why is the only one in the country in Ado Ekiti…and not in Onitsha, Kano or Idumota?

A lot is made of Professor Dora Akunyili’s successes at NAFDAC rightly so!

Very few Nigerians had heard about this agency before Professor Akunyili’s tenure. It was at the same level as several other parastatals of the Ministry of Health in the late nineties such as NPHCDA, NPI, that were barely doing more than paying salaries.

In one area where NAFDAC can claim significant progress is in the enlightment of Nigerians. We are all aware of the existence of fake medicines and we make a conscious effort to check if the product has a NAFDAC number. Now even the Kellogs Cornflakes sold in all the supermarkets in th UK carry a NAFDAC registration number. Recently NAFDAC appointed one of Nigeria’s most popular contemporary musician 2Face Idibia as an Ambassador! Note that Alhaja Turai, is also its Grand Matron! (Naija! 🙂

During every advertising break while the Network news is being broadcast, we watch NAFDAC public announcements warning citizens not to buy fake drugs, and to report those that do.

Nigerians are doing their best. But the era of celebrating individuals and awards has passed. We desire strong institutions. We do not want to see NAFDAC officials gathering a few mobile police men in drug burning orgies…

We want to see institutional changes. In the past 10 years what has actuallly changed with the medicine trade?. Anyone can walk into any open market, anywhere in Nigeria and buy any medicine they want from people who have not finished primary school. The best the average Nigerian can do is ask if it has a NAFDAC number. From the “My Pikin” story…you know what that means.
NAFDAC is one Nigeria’s instiitutions with a good reputation. World press conferences are not going to solve our problems. Let them roll up their sleeves and go to work.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

4 replies on “Where is your NAFDAC number?”

You don’t want the death penalty for fake drug manufacturers; fair enough you might be against the death penalty for any reason but I believe that they deserve it in this case because they are deliberaely targeting the sick and in most cases the poor.

Producing fake drugs can not be compared with some poor patent medicine seller who does not know that he should demand a prescription to sell certain drugs.

It is also not the same as some poor sap who has not been able to store his drugs at the best temperature as written on the pack. Why not blame the drug manufacturers for producing drugs that need to stored such cold temperatures when the infrastructure doesn’t exist to guarantee that temperature.

My brothers keep up the fight, one day some one will hear your cries.

Dear Sir
How do these drugs ( or their raw materials for manufacturing) get to these open drug stores in kano, Onistha and Aba, and indeed many other thousands of illegal drug stores in Nigeria?
Where is the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria?
Where is the Pharmacy Society of Nigeria?
Where is the safety Commission of nigeria? ( if there is one) or is it NAFDAC?
What does NAFDAC number mean when every immaginable chinese drug that is currently an epidemic in nigeria has a NAFDAC number, from Tiansi to Tai chi to you mention it – vibrator machines that cure diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, stroke, gonorrhoea, impotence, infertility, madness, etc!.
Is there a Prescription Monitoring Agency in Nigeria? or ofcourse prescriptions count for nothing when you can walk into a drug store / chemistr/ patent medicine store/ pharmacy in any corner of town or village and buy the most dangerous drug, stored in open card board boxes, tucked under the chair of the seller !

Joseph Ana.

Fake drugs and weak law enforcement systems go hand in hand and as such the death penalty does not fit the bill here. We could argue that on same to the likes of the Tafa Balogun that stole all the cash necessary for law enforcement. Fake drugs exist everywhere but kept to the minimum in societies where the rule of law works better. Nigeria is simply an easy target and until we resolve that issue, Dr Paul Orhii’s rhetoric is just that.

NAFDAC is doing is part and in fact exceeding its mandate. NAFDAC does not have authority over pharmaceutical premises, only drug quality. The Pharmaceutical Council has the mandate to regulate and shut down illegal retail and wholesale pharmaceutical premises and they need to do their job. Unfortunately, they receive minimal support from the gov’t and rely on licensing fees.

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