The rate at which expired and adulterated food products and drugs flood markets across Nigeria is a source of concern. Four deaths and 284 hospitalisations were recently recorded in Kano State due to that. The incident, which resulted from a strange disease, was later traced to food poisoning from a flavoured drink that contained a chemical called ‘xan tsami’ by locals. According to the Kano State Coordinator of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Pharmacist Shaba Mohammed, the agency traced the source of the citric acid believed to be the main cause of the strange disease. He said three days after the victims were hospitalised, they started urinating blood.
Pharmacist Mohammed said a team of NAFDAC personnel was sent to hospitals where the affected people were admitted. Samples of the drink and some of the ingredients used in making the drinks were collected. In the end, it was observed that the use of some chemicals to make the drinks caused the problem. A team of NAFDAC personnel was thereafter sent to the market to identify and seize the products. A dealer suspected of buying about 29 bags of the chemical and distributing it to retailers in other markets was arrested.
The fact that illicit hawking of uncertified food products and drugs has continued unabated in streets and markets in spite of the presence of NAFDAC officials in states of the federation prompts some compelling questions. Is NAFDAC living up to its mandate of checking the circulation of unregistered, uncertified or expired drugs and food products? Are there enough product inspectors to carry out NAFDAC’s statutory functions? If there is adequate number of personnel, do they have the requisite training and qualifications for the job they were employed to do?
The resident media consultant of the agency, Sayo Akintola, said NAFDAC, with its Directorate of Inspection and Enforcement, has more than enough personnel to check the circulation of expired and adulterated food products and drugs across the country. He said “counterfeit medical products and food items worth N2 billion were recently destroyed in Kano and Anambra states.” He also said a food spices manufacturing company with locations in various parts of Lagos was last month sealed by NAFDAC due to the retail of its expired products. The items seized from the company were thyme, ginger, garlic and curry.
On the other hand, Pharmacist Mohammed admitted inadequate manpower as part of the challenges inhibiting the agency’s activities. “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,” he said.
Whether claims and counter claims over insufficient personnel by authorities of NAFDAC are true or false, it is obvious that the agency has not satisfactorily lived up to its mandate. The unchecked circulation of expired and unsafe food products and drugs in Nigerian markets points to surveillance failure in the agency’s operations. The Kano incident could have been forestalled if NAFDAC’s Directorate of Inspection and Enforcement had gathered enough intelligence on the circulation of the unsafe citric acid. It further exposes the failure of the agency’s Pharmaco-Vigilance Directorate as an intelligence outfit of NAFDAC.
Similarly, NAFDAC has not explored the broadcast as well as print media to sufficiently educate Nigerians on the significance of ascertaining the expiry date of all food products and drugs before buying or administering them. The awareness among Nigerians about the “Best Before” date is actually still low.
While governments in other countries take their border control seriously, the porous nature of Nigeria’s land borders is one that could have allowed the importation of expired chemicals. We call for a thorough probe of not only how the dangerous citric acid came into the country but also of its circulation chain. We insist that those found guilty should be prosecuted according to provisions of the law.