Mr. Kenneth Azikwe is the Ondo State Coordinator,National Agency for Food and Drug Control, NAFDAC. In this interview with Evelyn Omotoye, he bares his mind on the efforts the agency is making to grow micro, small and medium scale food and drug manufacturing businesses, ensuring wholesome regulated products are made available to Nigerians and other sundry issues.
Can you briefly tell us the agency’s activities in the state?
NAFDAC is an organisation that was established to regulate importation, exportation, manufacturing, distribution, sales and use of regulated products. Our regulated products include drugs, packaged water, medical devices, food and chemicals which we register.
We also carry out routine activities to ensure that those that have been registered and certified are playing the games according to the rules and where they are not, sanctions are imposed. This is to be sure that what we called good manufacturing practices and routine facilities that we have certified to produce those regulated products are followed.
We also carry out campaign on drug abuse and misuse among our youths and the civil populace.
We also carry out pharmaco-vigilant campaign which is to ensure that the drugs available are inefficacious, that is, where there is a contradiction in the response to what the drug does, it is expected that such person should report to the agency for further investigation. Pharmaco-vigilance is what we do by visiting where we had dropped pharmaco-vigilant forms in the hospitals, pharmacies and other places where we encourage them to do pharmaco-vigilance.
This practice has been taken to the next level now whereby you can use online reporting portal to report pharmaco-vigilance complaints for further investigation.
In terms of food, we visit all the facilities that handles food according to our mandate, and we visit facilities where the food are being distributed for sale such as supermarkets, we ensure that they are kept under the right condition, so that, the quality does not deteriorate before it gets to the consumer.
For some of those regarded as food (micro-nutrients) vehicles, such as flour , vegetable oil or sugar which are supposed to be fortified with vitamin A and salt, that is fortified with iodine, we ensure they are actually fortified and are kept in a proper condition so that the micro-nutrients in these food vehicles are intact, so that, the consumers can get the exact specifications for their own well-being.
In Ondo State, we have the records of all the food manufacturing outlets where they produce packaged water, beverages, food products, snacks, honey, drugs among others. We do routine monitoring on a regular basis. We just concluded one recently in the Southern part of the state to ensure good manufacturing, distribution and sales practices are in place for the consumers to get the best.
How do you monitor patent stores to control sales of expired drugs?
We do regular monitoring as well. We visit and educate them for drugs that have scratch panel, they should encourage customers to scratch and send the codes to get the response of the genuineness of the products. Apart from this, we organize trainings and retraining for handlers of these products on the ways and manners these product should be handled. We need to enlighten them on why some of these products must not be exposed to sunlight, why they must not cook in the same store where they are storing some of these drugs. Because if you go to the rural areas, you would find out that it is the same shop where the products are being stocked they cook, sleep and the temperature atimes inside the shop would be very high and this could affect the drugs.
How do you carry out your activities to avoid attacks from deviants among other security challenges?
In most cases, we hardly see any resistance because our stakeholders are aware of the roles we play in the society, we carry them along and they are readily willing to cooperate with us to ensure the industry is clean. Although we have the police cooperation when it comes to the issue of security too. What we do is key to the sustainability and survival of the food and drug manufacturing industry. So they believe that we are key partners in ensuring that wholesome regulated products are made available to the consumers. So we hardly have such challenge in most cases.
What other challenges are facing NAFDAC in its operations in getting the best result or would you say NAFDAC has arrived and made it all?
Certainly there are lots of challenges one of which is huge logistics gap. For instance here, for the 18 local government areas, I just have one Hilux Van and it is very old. We manage to use it, so we need more operational vehicles. We need upgrades of our equipment. Our working environment is not the best, we need more conducive environment and adequate space to operate effectively and efficiently. The list is endless. We don’t mind the support of the state government because the citizens here are the direct beneficiaries of all our activities. So if the state government can support us in this area, we’ll be very grateful and it will help us to reach out to all nooks and crannies of the state particularly, the micro, small and medium scale industries.
The agency, under the leadership of Prof. Moji Adeyeye keyed into the present Buhari administration’s moves to provide employment opportunities to people at different levels, even at small scale level.
So we have the micro and small scale industry regulations that allow us to register people who make small products like chips, popcorn, chinhin and others in the cottage level in a dedicated room in their apartment or a dedicated kitchen in their building, so that, they come forward to be registered.
My Director General has slashed down the payment fees by half, so that, these people can come forward and be registered, so that their products would be received by supermarkets and other stores selling them thereby promoting the small scale industry.
The special packages comes with speedy process. They don’t need to go to our headquarters, they can be registered here in our state offices. All they need to bring is the CAC certification because NAFDAC number cannot be given to an individual, it has to be a coperate entity or organisation, trademark is important but not compulsory. Then you write your organization operation procedure, label and fuctions of your equipment and other necessary thing about your production. Then you may need to fumigate the environment, so that, cockroaches and rats don’t run around what you are preparing, plus the certificate of fitness so that we are sure you are fit to handle public food. Once you are certified of all these, we will do some analysis on the product to ensure that it is safe for human consumption and is of good quality, and we will issue the NAFDAC number all within the space of 90 days maximum.
So we encourage young business owners to come forward with their idea and new products so that we can grow them through the micro and small scale window that has been opened for them.
I know your agency takes seriously the issue of marketing of infant formula, what are those rules the manufacturer/distributor subjected to and why?
Beginning from 2005, NAFDAC has domiciled a regulation on infant and young child feed food and other related products . This regulation captures how infant food should be marketed.
The infant foods are what we called Breast Milk substitutes BMS and these are solid, semi solid or liquid products that are offered to a child between 0 to 36months as a partial or total replacement of breast milk. These products must be marketed in a way that you don’t put pressure on the buyer to buy them.
The code simply states that distributors must not advertise publicly or have a special stand to sell BMS products, they must not offer any form of discount or promo on the products, so that, people would buy on choice, they must not be put in target by the manufacturer. Then if you are a mother, expectant or nursing mother, you must not be offered gift of infant formula in the hospital. In fact, manufacturer agents are not allowed to come and teach mothers on how to breast feed or provide any form of knowledge to healthcare workers or give them any form of incentives including gifts such as Biro, calendar etc.
All these things are targeted towards ensuring infant food is removed from marketing pressure which other products are subjected to, so that, its use would not be based on marketing strategies but on need such recommendation or prescription. This code is not banning the BMS products, but it is to encourage exclusive breast feeding for six months and with complimentary food for up till three years. When you are doing what the code forbids, you would be penalised.
What is the level of compliance in Ondo?
For the manufacturer/distributor, they are aware of this code and comply except for some few deviants whose products we seize. For some mothers, ignorance or lack of awareness of the importance of breast feeding is what is driving their non compliance. Inadequate knowledge about the code and its provision make most health workers fall prey to some of the antics of the manufacturers including their mouth watering offers.
By this, we are doing a lot here in the state to enlighten them. Because these marketers come in different guises with their cross marketting strategies. So we are still enlightening the health workers before we begin to penalise those who would fall prey of the tempting offers.
What form of relationship exist between NAFDAC and the related MDAs in the state?
We have a robust information mechanism that provides us with the information that we need for our day to day operations. Our relationship with the state government through the relevant MDAs is very robust, in fact, our agency is part of the state task force on fake and counterfeit drugs. And going by what I have seen here, I think the Ondo State task force on fake and counterfeit drugs under the chairmanship of Commissioner for Health is one of the most active taskforce in this regard. Other MDAs are also collaborating with us to enlighten the public as well as the security agencies to ensure that we have a smooth raid operations and that the security umbrella is available for every government agency that operates in the state. And we are doing our best in the state to safeguard the health of the citizens.
As the coordinator, what plans do you intend to carry out to get a better results in the state?
We want to get more stakeholders involved in our activities because the more involved they are in regulations, the better the results. Another strategy we want to use is public enlightenment. You know knowledge is power, by the time the people are enlightened, they will be able to make informed choice on the regulated products that are available in the market.
Lastly, I intend to collaborate with more MDAs at the state level particularly those very close to the grassroots to get all these information and enlightenment campaign to the people in the interior parts of the state and to be able to mobilise the micro, small and medium facilities to come and embrace what we now have in place that will give their products the certification they require to bring it to the lime light and market it well.
What do you think the advancement in technology has offered your agency in enhancing carrying out their operations?
Apart from the Pharmaco-vigilant Rapid Alerts System for Consumer Reporting PRASCOR, for pharmaco-vigilance reporting, we also have a Mobile Authentication System, MAS, where a consumer can scratch a panel and send a code on a product and get messages on the genuineness of the product. We also have the True Scan Technology which provides us with equipment with which drugs can be tested right where you are to tell you whether the drug is genuine or otherwise.
So these and more are the technology we have leverage on. The most fantastic is the use of your cell phone to find which drug is fake or not. We have a system to monitor manufacturing facilities to be sure that anything coming out from them has its quality and efficacy guaranteed. The public can as well reach the agency including our DG on our social media pages to make suggestions, clarificaton or lay complaints.
NAFDAC is 25years now, so with all the efforts the governments have been putting in place over the years to fight fake and counterfeit drugs and food controll, can you say our society is free or that Nigeria is getting the desired goal in this regards?
I can say boldly that we are getting better. Before now, there was no such technology to check things out at a tap of a finger. We started without a NAFDAC number, now we have it and even have the technology. We are celebrating our 25years this month, so if we look at where we are coming from since 1993, we would see that we have made a lot of progress. We now allow micro and small food products to come on board and also benefit from the NAFDAC registration number to ensuring that the facility as well as the products are safe for human consumption. So we have come a long way to accommodate everybody in the industry. We are believe we are doing our best and hope to do more in safeguarding the lives of our people to get a better Nigeria.
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