By Chukwuma Muanya


• Nigeria canvasses international convention on counterfeit medicines
• NAFDAC says prevalence reduced to 6.4% with anti-faking technologies
• Slimming, erectile dysfunction, cancer, anti-malaria, antibiotic drugs, condoms most fakedPainkillers-drug

THERE is fresh alert on fake drugs following a global crackdown organised by INTERPOL which led to 156 arrests worldwide and N16.3 billion (£51.6) million of counterfeit medicines seized across 115 countries.

The International Criminal Police Organisation or INTERPOL is an intergovernmental body facilitating global police cooperation.

To address the menace, the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is canvassing the establishment of International Convention on Fake Drugs just as there are for tobacco and money counterfeiting that allow easy collaboration between countries to arrest perpetrators.

NAFDAC’ Director of Special Duties, Abubakar Jimoh, told The Guardian yesterday that the agency has also, with the help of anti-faking technologies such as Truscan and Text Messaging System reduced the incidence of fake drugs in the country from 64 per cent in 2008, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) study on Africa, to 6.4 per cent in 2011.

Jimoh said the most counterfeited medicines in Nigeria are the antimalarial and antibiotics unlike in the global crackdown where most of the drugs seized were harmful slimming pills, erectile dysfunction tablets, anaemia medication, narcolepsy remedies, unlicensed foreign medicines and fake condoms.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the United Kingdom (UK) disclosed on Thursday, last week, that fake drugs and unlicensed medication worth £15.8 million (N4.99 billion) have been seized as part of a global crackdown on counterfeit products.

The ‘Operation Pangea VIII’ initiative, coordinated through INTERPOL, concluded with a week of international raids between June 9 and 16, and resulted in 156 arrests worldwide.

The operation also targeted websites that were offering falsified, counterfeit and unlicensed medicines. Such sites were closed or suspended, their domain names or payment facilities removed.

According to the report published by DailyMailOnline, in the UK, MHRA enforcement officers, with assistance from local police, raided known addresses in connection with the illegal Internet supply of potentially harmful medicines.

It resulted in the domestic seizure of almost 6.2 million doses of falsified, counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, 15,000 of which were medical devices with a total value of £15.8 million (N4.99 billion).

Among the drugs seized were medications to treat: Epilepsy, asthma, acne, narcolepsy, breast cancer, cholesterol reduction, erectile dysfunction, analgesics, hair loss, weight loss, painkillers, fertility, prostate cancer, anxiety and insomnia, skin lightening and diabetes.

Others include: Premature ejaculation, tanning, pain management, anti-inflammatory, steroids, anti-viral, eye drops, bacterial infection, eczema, eyelash hair growth, depression, hormones, dental equipment, and fake condoms.

The UK operation also resulted in 1,380 websites being closed down, 339 of which were domestic sites.

Jimoh said: “The problem of counterfeiting is one that Nigeria is in the forefront. NAFDAC under the leadership of Dr. Paul Orhii has been described as champions in the anti-counterfeiting fight. Two years ago the WHO made Dr. Orhii the chair of Spurious/falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit (SFFC) medicines set up in 2011 by the WHO to fight counterfeit medicines. Orhii was the first chair.

“Nigeria has been hailed for deploying cutting edge technology in fight against drug counterfeiting. The use of Truscan and text messaging system and new anti-faking technologies has put us shoulder high.

“This was the problem we readily acknowledged long time ago. Before fake drug was seen as developing countries’ problem but now it is seen as global problem.

“NAFDAC is advocating coalition of all nations against counterfeiting. If we have international convention against tobacco and counterfeit money why not fake drugs? There must also be an international convention on fake drugs to make it a crime across borders. NAFDAC canvasses for international convention against fake drugs.”

On the type of drugs most faked in Nigeria, Jimoh said: “We have particularly lifestyle drugs. They are usually unregistered. The most counterfeited is antimalarial followed by antibiotics. The reason is that malaria is the commonest disease in Nigeria. Counterfeiters target drugs that are in hot demand.”

On the percentage of fake drugs in Nigeria, the NAFDAC director said: “A WHO study conducted in 2011 showed that there is a decline. The survey of the quality of selected antimalarial medicines circulating in six countries of sub-Saharan
Africa in 2008 showed 64 per cent prevalence and another in 2011 showed 20 per cent prevalence. The result was in tandem with NAFDAC’s 2010 study that showed that 19.6 per cent of anti-malaria drugs in Nigeria was fake. However, a general study on all drugs showed that the prevalence of fake drugs in Nigeria was 6.4 per cent.”

MHRA Head of Enforcement, Alastair Jeffrey, said: “A breakdown of the UK seizures highlights the growing trend towards lifestyle medications and products that are unlicensed, falsified or controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

“The majority of the products seized in UK originated from India, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

“MHRA has continued to target YouTube accounts and videos as criminals seek to exploit new channels to profit from the illegal sale of medicines – resulting in the removal of more than 320 videos.

“Internationally, results show that almost 150,000 packages were inspected by regulators and customs officials, resulting in the seizure of over 20.7 million doses of unlicensed and counterfeit medicines worth approximately £51.6 million.”

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