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My Pikin saga and NAFDAC's challenge

Published by Guardian on Fri, 07 Jun 2013

IT is a relief of sorts that the agony of the multiple deaths caused by the administration of My Pikin baby teething mixture is finally coming to an end. At least, that is the implication of the conviction the other day and 14-year jail sentence handed to the drug's manufacturers. Before the drug was found to be contaminated and then withdrawn from the market in 2008, it had unfortunately killed 84 babies to whom it was administered. That this saga occurred five years ago and a semblance of justice has just come, of course, dilutes the relief of the moment. Five years is too long a time to unravel the truth of a drug responsible for the untimely death of 84 infants, considering that the prosecution and punishment should primarily aim to deter other people engaged in adulterating or manufacturing drugs without the due care of preserving human lives. This long period in investigating and prosecuting just one instance of drug contamination also portends grave danger in a country where many people perpetually engage in faking and adulterating products. It therefore raises questions on the capability of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) to wholesomely counter the propensity of some Nigerians to endanger the lives of fellow citizens for purely commercial gain.Delivering judgment in the charge of unlawful production, adulteration and sale of the drug, the Federal High Court found the manufacturers guilty of conspiracy and sale of the drug. It therefore sentenced the company's Production Manager, Adeyemo Abiodun, and the Quality Assurance Manager, Egbele Eromosele, to 14 years imprisonment each. The court ordered that the company, Barewa Phamaceutical, be compulsorily wound up and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government. They were all prosecuted under the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome processed foods (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. 25 of 1999.Notably, this is about the first time in the history of drug regulation that NAFDAC would prosecute a case of adulterated drug to its conclusion and with such clear penalty. It is an impressive record, given that the agency has existed for years, and such cases are rampant in the country. On the other hand, it shows the possibilities before NAFDAC in seeking to attain its statutory objectives. Indeed, the agency can do a lot more to curtail the incidence of faking and adulteration; and therefore save more lives. Beside the report that about 84 babies died in 2008, even the Managing Director of the company, Kola Okunola died on October 27, last year in the course of trial. Of course, NAFDAC is not alone in the blame for the delay in bringing the case to a close, as the country's system of justice administration is itself wobbly. But the agency has a duty, whether by seeking amendments to its extant law or taking pragmatic steps to ensure speedy trial of suspects arraigned under its enabling law. Justice in the matters involving NAFDAC is two-way: for the accused persons, and by extension, to the bereaved families of fake drugs victims.Over the years, drug counterfeiting has led to grave consequences for the country and its citizens. There are reports that even doctors had occasions to doubt the therapeutic efficacy of drugs many of which had thus lost their integrity while the country loses precious lives avoidably; and the economy is compromised. Against the backdrop of the globalisation of drug counterfeiting, an added implication is that the country's security can equally be endangered. The current Director General of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii did well to initiate the process that ensured the prosecution of My Pikin manufacturers. He, however, needs to sustain the zeal for victory in the war against counterfeit drugs. Granted that the strengthening of NAFDAC law, which he is seeking, is a step in the right direction, the fact remains that even under the current statutory dispensation, the agency can do more. Consistency and regularity in prosecuting offenders are very important.Additionally, NAFDAC needs to pay more attention to the quality of its investigation and the diligence of its prosecution. The agency's case on My Pikin almost collapsed due to loopholes in these factors, as Mr. Justice Okeke observed that throughout the five-year period of trial, the prosecution failed to provide any evidence of adulteration. In other words, there was no proof that somebody had tampered with the original product and changed the quality and efficacy of the drug. Yet, the fulcrum of NAFDAC's position was that the drug contained a dangerous chemical called 'diethlene glycol,' which allegedly caused the death of the victims. The court could therefore only convict the accused persons for 'conspiracy' 'and 'sale' of the drug.Amidst the accolades, NAFDAC should see its victory in My Pikin case as a stepping stone to achieving greater feat. The agency's introduction of cutting edge technologies such as TRUSCAN and MAS (scratch and text messaging technology) is instructive in so far as the methods have been globally acknowledged as among the effective ways of fighting drug counterfeiting. The agency should further step up its drive towards self-sufficiency in the local manufacturing of drugs through the World Health Organisation (WHO) prequalification programme. Similarly, it should take its plan for a centralised and co-ordinated distribution system beyond rhetoric, to a practical level.To eradicate the scourge or reduce drug counterfeiting to the barest minimum, NAFDAC and other stakeholders must be proactive and stay a step ahead of the counterfeiters.
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