It is worrisome that Nigerian markets are still flooded with uncertified, unregistered and harmful products, regularly used by teeming citizens, which are taking a heavy toll on the health and wellbeing of the populace.
I am referring to skin-care products, foodstuffs, cosmetics and medicinal drugs, among others, which are not approved by regulatory agencies such as the National Agency for Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), among others.
But the manufacturers or producers of these harmful products used by Nigerians are not to be blamed. SON and NAFDAC, among others, should be sanctioned for compromising their oversight mandates. Their failure to ascertain the worthiness or otherwise of some products used by citizens is responsible for the sickness and deaths of many.
In Nigeria, we feel the pain of rudderless and weak regulation in many areas. It appears that those who are given the duty to regulate even connive with relevant parties to cut corners. And whenever this occurs, society is short-changed and the people are left to live with the unpleasant consequences of such.
Not too long ago, a cross section of Nigerian scientists raised the alarm of food processors and sellers in the country using toxic chemicals to improve the look of many food items including cassava flour, beans and fish. The experts explained that with the practice, millions of people are subjected to the risk of experiencing kidney problems and cancer.
According to them, weak government testing capacities and informal food supply chains leave traders and fishermen with little oversight and offer almost no protection to unwary consumers. It is pointless arguing that many of the toxic chemicals added as preservatives to the food we consume as citizens are not safe for human consumption.
Although Nigeria lacks statistics on the health effects of these toxic preservatives in foods, there is an increase in diseases such as cancer, birth defects, kidney failure and diabetes in children. These diseases don’t just happen. It is a function of what an individual breathes in or eats.
Toxic preservatives have cumulative effects on the body, even though they do not kill immediately they are taken. It is something that we need to take more seriously. It is something that is very scary. As humans, our body mass is large and the quantity that we eat is not massive, so we would not die immediately or know that these things are causing harm.
By the time, the effect begins to manifest on kidney or liver maybe 10 or 15 years after; nobody will link it to what was eaten in the past. The use of antibiotics and other drugs in raising fish for the table is also a challenge to human health as it is building resistance in humans.
By the time the fish is ready for the market, there is no time for the withdrawal period to ensure the effect of the drug given has waned. In developed countries, antibiotics are not licensed for raising fish for consumption. Drugs are only licensed for use in ornamental fish and that is not meant to be consumed.
Again, Nigerians should be concerned about the public health of bleaching creams. There have been a number of reports raising concerns over the safety of cosmetic ingredients and the damages they cause on health.
The effects of cosmetics on public health depend on several indicators; kind and amount of chemical ingredients used in the formulation; time and frequency of cosmetics usage; personal skin condition, and environmental situation.
A large amount of cosmetics and potentially harmful ingredients are used in hairdressing, skin care and nails services. These harmful chemical ingredients are regularly inhaled by beauty professionals, as well as cosmetics users.
In the light of the above gloomy reality, one is forced to ask: what is SON doing, and what would have gone wrong at NAFDAC? In the era of Prof. Dora Akunyili, Nigerians for the first time saw how a regulatory agency pursued its activities, with a crusading spirit alien to the world of public service.
Nigerians also saw how the fear of NAFDAC in that era made fake drugs and food dealers’ tremble. For quite some time, this crusading flavour in NAFDAC’s activities has not been visible.
Though they might have displayed ineptitude lately, SON and NAFDAC should not sit back and watch activities in their areas of supervision deteriorate.
The volume of sub-standard goods that have found their way into the country and even those that are produced within is worrying. It is the duty of regulatory agencies to constantly pry into what goes on under their purview, with the objective of sanitizing affairs and ensuring that parties play the game according to the rules.
Let those at the helm of affairs in our regulatory agencies sit up and not be laid back or see their domain as a rent post carved out for their selfish pursuit. Also, political leaders should take with seriousness the process of appointing helmsmen and women for regulatory agencies.
Heads of such agencies must show passion, be focused and not be people who seek enrichment through the back door. And even when appointed, such helmsmen and women in regulatory agencies must be under periodic review, to ensure that the society is not impacted upon negatively on account of their poor performance.
Leah Nickaf is a 300-level student of the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, and wrote in via: [email protected]