There are growing concerns over the rate expired food products and drugs flood markets across the country. This has put the health of Nigerians who consume them at risk. Daily Trust takes a look at the situation and its health implications.
Illegal hawking of drugs and uncertified products has continued unabated in streets and markets in some states despite the presence of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) offices.
This has raised questions on whether the agency has adequate personnel to check expired food products and drugs.
Penultimate week, 284 hospitalisations and four deaths were reported in Kano from a ‘strange disease’ which was later traced to food poisoning from a flavoured drink that has a chemical called xan tsami by locals.
According to the Kano State coordinator of NAFDAC, Pharmacist Shaba Mohammed, the agency has traced the source of the citric acid believed to be the main cause of the strange disease.
He said, “We got the information on Saturday that some people took some drinks and have fallen sick and been hospitalised.
“When we got the information, we sent our team to the hospitals where they people were admitted to ask them some questions and at the end, we were able to collect the drink samples and some of the ingredients used in making the drinks. We observed that they used some chemicals in the drinks which led to their condition.
“Three days after they had been hospitalised, they started urinating blood. On Monday, we sent our team to the market to identify and seize the products.
“Because of the information going round, some of the persons selling the products hid the products. But so far we have arrested one dealer that was suspected of buying about 29 bags of the chemical and distributing it to the markets and some neighbouring states,” he said.
‘NAFDAC extends branches to LGAs’
Pharm. Mohammed said NAFDAC is leaving no stone unturned to ensure total halt in the circulation of expired and uncertified drugs and food items in the state.
He said, in a bid to address the issues, the agency has recently expanded its presence in the local government areas by establishing local government branches in Rano and Bichi local government areas.
While acknowledging that Kano is too vast for the agency’s manpower, he said NAFDAC is operating in collaboration with other relevant agencies in the state to arrest the menace of food poisoning and expired drugs in different parts of the state.
He said through such collaboration, the agency was able to track the source of the citric acid that was said to be responsible for the ongoing health concerns in the state.
“Kano is too large to be covered adequately by NAFDAC personnel. To boost our capacity, we are collaborating with the state primary healthcare since they have staff in all local governments. That is why we were able to trace the quantities of citric acid sent to other states like Adamawa,” he added.
In Kaduna, there are illegal drug sellers who carry drugs on their shoulders and hawk around communities, but they are no longer seen often.
Daily Trust gathered that around Jos road and some parts of the central market where they used to converge, traders said most of them have gone into hiding due to clampdown by officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) or NAFDAC.
“You only see one or two of them moving from street to street now because they are often arrested by government officials. Three years ago, they were everywhere in Kaduna, but most of them are now in hiding,” Samaila Hassan who sells provision said.
Our correspondent reports that NAFDAC has a zonal office in Kaduna but it is uncertain whether they have adequate inspectors in the state.
Speaking with Daily Trust, the NAFDAC Director, North West Zone, Pharmacist Dauda Gimba, said the zonal office has adequate inspectors even though it could do with more.
“In Kaduna State, for example, we have about three Hilux vans and we even have one in our enforcement unit, so these are vehicles we use to enter the nooks and crannies of the state daily,” he said.
Gimba however said inspection was not the only activity of the agency, adding that: “There are so many others like people coming for registration, enquiries and even petitions, so we have a time table we use to make sure we touch every aspect of our responsibility.”
He said despite a clampdown on the illegal drug vendors and those selling expired products, the criminals have remained undeterred.
“Some people are adamant; we arrest a lot of them, with some charged to court and they still go back to the streets. They are strategically located in some corners; some junctions and they move to the streets confidently,” he said.
Our reporter gathered that NAFDAC has a Lagos office which has different departments to cater for different sub-sectors in the agency. One of them is the Inspection and Enforcement Directorate which checks for expired and adulterated products.
The agency’s Inspection department in Lagos is functional as the inspectors sniff fake drugs and illicit businesses in the state.
However, despite the presence of the inspectors, drugs, some of which are expired, are still being sold inside buses and hawked in the streets of Lagos.
Findings revealed that with a population of over 20 million residents, the number of inspectors in the agency is not adequate for the state.
Meanwhile, the few hands in the department regularly scout for people involved in actions which are harmful to the health of Nigerians.
Once in a while, they move around with the state government officials to identify pharmacies and patent shops with counterfeit or expired drugs.
A bakery manager, Mr Dimeji Amuda, told our correspondent that NAFDAC’s inspectors were at the bakery when he commenced business, adding that they usually visit every now and then to monitor activities.
“If anything goes wrong, or anywhere is dirty, we will be fined. They will come without informing us, so, we always want to keep everything in check so that when they eventually come for inspection, we won’t have to pay any fine,” he said.
Over the years, the inspectors known as the CID of NAFDAC have made a good number of arrests.
The Rivers State Coordinator of NAFDAC, Chinelo Eheh, said that the agency has effective inspectors that go round the state to monitor activities of those that violate the guidelines of the agency.
She appealed to the public to support the agency with information on any clandestine activities of unscrupulous producers who are out to endanger public health.
Recently, she also warned producers of its regulated products in the state to keep strictly to the guidelines and standards of the regulatory body or be ready to face the full wrath of the law.
She gave the warning in Port Harcourt after raids of unregistered bread at Aboloma Road area of the metropolis and some packaged water factories in Port Harcourt.
She said “the raid became necessary following a tip-off by concerned citizens about the products.” At Fimie Market, Aboloma, NAFDAC team accompanied by policemen from Rivers State Police Command confiscated a large quantity of unregistered Nourish Delight Bread and Doughnut, in the early morning raid as they were being sold to the public.
A 33-year-old woman, Mercy Eloka, was arrested in connection to the production of the unregistered products.
The team also raided a sachet water factory; Obiriezi Global Resources, located at First Odums Street, off East West Road, Rumuchakara, Choba, Port Harcourt. The factory was operating in a substandard facility with poor filtration equipment, altered production flow while packaged water was being packed on bare floor.
The company was also found to be producing with expired license and with the name of the sachet water as ‘Resources Table Water’ instead of ‘Nedu Table Water’ which the company registered with NAFDAC, and also with a fictitious registration number.
The NAFDAC team arrested a female worker, Jennifer Godwin, 25, and destroyed bags of unwholesome sachet water produced for sale by the outfit.
We have adequate inspectors – NAFDAC
According to the resident Media Consultant of the agency, Sayo Akintola, the agency has a directorate called Directorate of Inspection & Enforcement, and has more than enough personnel to check for expired and adulterated food products and drugs across the country.
He said the agency has made a good number of arrests of fakers of drugs and other food items.
According to him, counterfeit medical products and food items worth N2bn were destroyed by the agency in Kano and Awka, Anambra State, last week.
“A food spices manufacturing company with locations in various parts of Lagos, Somgeo, was last month sealed by NAFDAC due to its expired products.
“The items seized included thyme, ginger, garlic, and curry. The products were expired and the business owner engaged in revalidating the products by illegally relabeling them.
“Can you imagine what the health hazard the consumption of such products would constitute for the health of the innocent Nigerian consumers,” he stated.
He said the organisation has offices across the states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“Efforts of our officers in the Pharmaco-vigilance Directorate are always complemented by all the staff of the agency including members of the public who observe some things and inform us,” he said.
He said the NAFDAC DG, Prof Moji Adeyeye, has always implored members of the public to provide the agency with useful information that can lead to the arrest of those that engage in spurious businesses that endanger the lives of innocent Nigerians.
“The truth of the matter is that NAFDAC can’t do it alone. We require the support of members of the public to burst the illicit activities of these merchants of death. You would agree with me that the agency has been all out against fakers of medicines and food products in the country,” he said.
Akintola said the NAFDAC boss has also solicited the support of traditional rulers and religious leaders as well as corporate bodies in the agency’s efforts to eliminate the menace of counterfeit medicines and fake cosmetics and food products in the country.
“And many more are still coming in other parts of the country. NAFDAC will not rest on its oars in its renewed efforts to safeguard the health of the nation,” he said.
By Ojoma Akor (Abuja) Richard P. Ngbokai (Kano) Lami Sadiq (Kaduna) Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt) & Risikat Ramoni (Lagos)