Of NAFDAC, imported garri and disposable syringes

A report in the social media regarding the existence of imported Indian garri (our local staple) in a Nigerian supermarket in Lagos was greeted with incredulity.  When I called the attention of my wife to the report, she impatiently dismissed it as impossible.  But less than 24 hours after, the report turned out to be true, thanks to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which acted promptly on the social media report by swooping on the supermarket, ascertaining and recovering 26 packets of the product.  The agency announced that preliminary investigation showed the packs of the imported garri had no NAFDAC number, which underscored, prima facie, that the product was illegally put on the shelves.

The agency’s official statement via its twitter handle put it in context: “This is the tweet that first caught our attention on Sunday 19th February 2017. It is about a certain pack of imported garri with the source given as India, which was found on the shelves of a Nigerian supermarket. “We knew we had work to do, and on Monday 20th, we did. Our actions and findings are outlined below: NAFDAC officers visited the supermarket in Ikoyi, today. 26 packets of 500mg each of the product were seized for analysis. The product has no NAFDAC number.  The product is said to be from Ghana but packaged in UK. The management of the supermarket has been invited for further discussion in our Lagos office. Investigation continues.” While Nigerians are awaiting full outcome of the agency’s comprehensive investigation into the source of the product and how it got into our market, the management of the agency, under the leadership of the acting Director General, Mrs Yetunde Oni, must be commended for its promptness in reacting to the social media report and doing the needful. I was glad to hear Oni, in a telephone interview on Channels Television, reconfirming the development and going ahead to give kudos to the whistle-blowing report, saying that “this time round the social media got it right and must be commended.”

This is the spirit which should dominate interactions between the three arms of government on the one hand and the fourth estate of the realm on the other hand. NAFDAC and its management have been responsible and responsive in the discharge of the agency’s core mandate of ensuring the health of the nation through monitoring of food safety standards and practices. The agency must ensure that products imported and exported are of right quality and can compete favourably in the world market. Remarkably, the agency has emplaced requirements for importation and exportation of regulated products.

What, however, is more important, at this time, is importation of regulated products from other climes, considering the implications they have for the health of the nation and survival of local productions and businesses. It is not only local production of garri that the agency should move in to protect through the impoundment of the imported garri from India or wherever; there is also an urgent need to save local syringe manufacturers from total collapse by impounding fake imported syringes, which have, also, reportedly flooded the Nigerian market. Even where imported syringes are not substandard and there is need to give import permit or licence, import duty on syringes should be increased to 40 per cent minimum in order to discourage indiscriminate importation since there are local industries producing standard disposable syringes and other medical necessaries in the country.

Reports of increasing dumping of imported Asian products, including disposable syringes, many of which are substandard and which are even purportedly subsidised by their home governments, into Nigeria are worrisome. The Ministry of Health, NAFDAC and other relevant agencies of government should weigh in and do the needful to save local productions.  If nothing is done, it will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for companies producing syringes and medical devices in the country to keep afloat. The supervising authorities in the health sector would do well to deliberately intervene to protect Nigerian syringe/medical device industries from, what stakeholders call, unfair competition by foreign manufacturers.

There is no doubt that this deliberate encouragement of local industries through a protectionist policy that, for instance, makes importation very rigorous will help to strength local capacities, generate employment for the unemployed youths, reduce over-dependence on imported products, conserve foreign exchange which the economy can leverage on, and bring about easier monitoring and control of standards. Standard control is key. If reports that substandard imported syringes in the Nigerian markets break easily at the point of using them for injections on patients are true, then it should be a source of serious concern to well-meaning Nigerians. To conclude, why allow importation of syringes when Nigerian companies, which have World Health Organisation (WHO), NAFDAC, Pharmacist Council of Nigeria and International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)/Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) certifications, are producing standard syringes and other medical devices in the country, and are even coping with the pressure of market demands?  Health supervisory authorities should take necessary actions.

Ojeifo is the Editor- in- Chief of The Congresswatch Magazine

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