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NAFDAC warns of killer cough syrup


....It is better to prevent fake drugs from entering the country than trying to stop their sale after

A persistent challenge in Nigeria’s health sector has been the prevalence of substantial amounts of adulterated and substandard drugs that constitute a significant danger to the lives and wellbeing of unsuspecting consumers. The recent warning issued to Nigerians by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) against the purchase and use of four substandard killer cough syrups indicates that the efficient and effective regulation of the standard of drugs remains a serious problem.

According to NAFDAC, the harmful drugs are Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makeoff Baby Syrup and Magrip N. Cold Syrup. The agency appealed to importers, distributors, retailers and consumers to be cautious and ensure vigilance within the supply chain, to prevent the importation, distribution, retailing and consumption of the substandard syrups.

It would appear that NAFDAC’s action in this respect was spurred by the World Health Organization (WHO) which had issued an alert on the presence in Gambia of the contaminated syrups made by an India-based company, Maiden Pharmaceuticals, which were linked with acute kidney injuries and had caused the death of 66 children in that country. Stating that the syrups were not registered by the agency and should not be in circulation, NAFDAC said all batches of the products should be considered unsafe.

The agency thus had little choice but to appeal to members of the public in possession of the listed products not to use them as well as to pharmaceutical stores to discontinue their sale and return whatever stock in their possession to the nearest NAFDAC office. It also urged those who had used the syrups and are suffering any adverse side effects to seek medical attention from qualified healthcare professionals.

The critical question, of course, is how the illegal and uncertified drugs got into the country in the first place. It is certainly far better and more practicable to prevent fake and harmful products from getting into the market than appealing for the return of substandard stock after they have gone on sale. Does the agency have the capacity to ensure that its plea in this regard is complied with? Is there not the strong possibility that some unscrupulous proprietors of medicine outlets will simply ignore the agency and go on selling the dangerous syrups to unsuspecting members of the public for pecuniary gain? How are we certain that beyond these syrups, there are no other types and categories of substandard drugs that have already gained access to and are on sale in our pharmaceutical outlets?

In 2009, at least 84 children died in Nigeria after being given a teething mixture contaminated with the chemical diethylene Glycol which is normally used as an anti-freeze in brake fluid.

The product, ‘My Pickin’, which was purportedly meant to treat teething pains in children was found to cause kidney and liver failure in the babies to whom it was administered and about 111 children aged between two months and seven years became ill and 75% died. In 2013, two officials from the company that produced the syrup, Barewa Pharmaceuticals, were found guilty by a court in Lagos and convicted while the company was closed down and its assets forfeited to the state.

But this latest incident does not suggest that over time, NAFDAC has necessarily acquired a higher capacity to prevent fake and adulterated drugs from getting into the country and being sold to innocent members of the public.

There is no doubt that the agency requires better funding to enhance its operations. Its members of the staff must continue to be trained to keep abreast of developments in the sector while its organisational scope should be expanded to enable it meet the scale of its mandate. NAFDAC would also need to forge closer working relations with other security and regulatory agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) to more effectively guarantee the standard and safety of drugs on sale in the country.



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