New NAFDAC DG Urged To Intensify Efforts Against Fake Herbal Drinks

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In the bid to exercise the power conferred on the Governing Council of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) by sections 5 and 30 of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control Act Cap NI Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004, NAFDAC has been recording successes.

Close observers of the agency have pointed out that noticeable area of its successes has been in the herbal drug manufacturing, packaging and sales as it regularly clamp down on unregistered herbal drug peddlers.

It would be recalled that NAFDAC has through its directorate of Investigation and enforcement been recording achievements in virtually every area that is within its mandate by following  intelligence report gathered by its Pharmacovigilance and Post Marketing Surveillance Directorate on any facility suspected to be producing Herbal Medicine that are not fit for human consumption. 

Despite seeming commendable success that has been recorded by the agency,  the proliferation and influx of herbal drinks from within and outside the shores of Nigeria, has become a source of anxiety for many Nigerians. Their worries cannot be said to be misplaced as the development has led to an upsurge in various brands.

Graphically explaining the situation will necessitate a narration of an incident recently witnessed by INDEPENDENT where at Idi-Araba in Lagos, a commercial tricycle operator, suddenly pulled over at the front of a hawker of herbal drink.

He beckoned at the hawker who was obviously in his early 50s, and demanded for a bottle of the drink. 

He was offered the product for purchase which he instantly opened, and gulped, then threw the empty bottle away after handing over money to the seller.

According to some respondents spoken to by INDEPENDENT on the issue, there is need for Professor Mojisola Christianah Adeyeye, the new Director-General of NAFDAC, to restore sanity to the beverage industry as herbal drinks manufacturers are unarguably blighting the sector with fake and unregistered products.

Mr. Gabriel Adeyemi, a patent and proprietary medicine vendor, who owns a shop, popularly called Chemist, at Idi-Araba, said the need for the new DG to sanitise the food and beverage sector of the economy with particular emphasis on herbal drinks is urgent.

He said the call is for the interest of the public, and in particular, food and beverage sector of the economy.

He said: “NAFDAC has been charged to ensure that no drink shall be manufactured, imported, exported, advertised, sold or distributed in Nigeria unless it has been registered in accordance with Provisions Of Decree 19 of 1993 as amended by Food, Drugs and Related Products (Registration) Decree No. 20 of 1999.”

Despite the fact that some herbal drinks had been duly certified by NAFDAC as registration numbers were assigned to them because they had been evaluated to be safe for human consumption, there are numerous herbal drinks in the market that were not evaluated.

Most uncertified herbal drinks can be found been hawked, particularly in Lagos, by some men that usually aid their efforts with a jukebox that is programmed to be reeling out the benefits of the drinks that were being hawked.

In the same vein, their female counterparts that are popularly called “Alagbo” are ubiquitously seen around major bus stops selling herbal drinks that are diluted with alcohol to their customers.

Before Guinness Nigeria Plc entered the beverage market with its premium Orijin spirit bitters and Orijin lager in 2013, more than twenty brands of different alcoholic herbal mixtures in the market have literarily been struggling for space on the shelves of drink sellers.

The diverse brands in the market which have been given different funny names by drinkers cut across,  Kparaga, Monkey shoulder, Kerewa, Kogbela, Ibile, Durosoke, Dadubule, Action Bitters, Koboko, Ogidigba, Baby Oku, Pasa Bitters, Ori malu,  Osomo, to Alomo of higher class, among others.

Mr. Edmund Ositelu, who said herbal drinks have enormous benefits called on the new NAFDAC’s DG to ensure that the market is sanitised purposely for the safety of numerous consumers of herbal drinks as there are fake ones in the market.

He said: “If something drastic is not done by the new DG to ensure that the proliferation is controlled or regulated that many consumers may end up losing their lives.”

Dr Tolu Akinremi, a medical Doctor with the Ogun Primary Health Care Board, noted that it had been a major challenge to the health sector, saying it would be difficult to regulate.

Mr. Kelvin Uweru, a chemist, said the new DG should take the issue very serious as many consumers that are wont to patronise herbal drinks whose source they do not know of need to be protected, and kept informed.

He advised that “people should steer away from consuming bitters and the traditional “agbo” as they are alcohol based and could adversely affect the body in the nearest future.”

He added that “It has so many dangers because you can’t even quantify the therapeutic dosage that should be taken; one can’t even say the constituent.”

He noted that: “Excessive intake of a badly processed herbal drink has effect on the liver most especially when it is alcohol-based. Even NAFDAC cannot guarantee what is there; so the new DG should embark an orchestrated campaign that would be capable of discouraging consumers from indiscriminately patronising road side herbal drink sellers who deal in products whose source are not known.”

He said, “You cannot totally ask people to stop something that they have been practising over the years, the new NAFDAC DG need to do a lot of education, more mobilisation and then probably convincing people to do this or that”.

Ostensibly responding to the expectations of the people,  Adeyeye, who has officially resumed duties, said she has the commitment to lead the Agency toward eliminating substandard foods and drugs in the country.

Adeyeye made the disclosure in Abuja at the Agency’s corporate headquarters while addressing staff on her resumption of duty. ,

She said although NAFDAC has over the years, made steady progress in protecting the health of the nation, the Agency under her administration will continue to ensure the health of all Nigerians and foreigners residing in Nigeria are not jeopardised by the use of substandard or counterfeit regulated products.

She expressed deep concern that while majority of Nigerians have concerns over safety of drugs, food, medical devices and water, little do they know that chemicals can also kill people easily, which is why she has come to ensure that NAFDAC lives up to her responsibility of eliminating falsified and unsafe drugs, medical devices, foods and water in Nigeria.

“The concerns of our people are mainly about safety of our drugs, food, medical devices and water. Most people, including those who manufacture fake drugs and sell bad foods or water, do not plan to kill people, but may not fully understand that chemicals (be they in drugs or food, or through bio-contamination) can kill hundreds of people easily”.

The NAFDAC DG expressed appreciation to the United States Pharmacopeia (USP); United States Agency for International Development (USAID); World Health Organisation (WHO); Nigeria Academic Pharmacists as well as other partners for their efforts and support of NAFDAC in the assurance of quality food, medicines and medical devices for all Nigerians.

She thanked the National assembly for their efforts so far towards passing the Fake and Counterfeit Drug Act, saying the attainment of the mission and vision of NAFDAC is a collective responsibility of all and her role as a Director General is to provide the needed leadership, direction and motivation to all staff for the realization of the goals of the Agency.

Earlier addressing Management staff during a brief handover, Professor Adeyeye acknowledged that though NAFDAC will be taking a new path, with all hands on deck, they can achieve greater success.

“We are all going there together because of our children, our husbands, our wives and indeed every Nigerian. We are in charge of food, drug and water. That is to say anything that goes into our body, we are in charge of it and that is how serious I take drugs, food and water and we will go there together”.

She, however, maintained that there is so much responsibility for NAFDAC as an Agency of government in terms of preventing adulterated and substandard drugs, food and water which can cause death and she is determined to ensure the workforce is strong and highly motivated to achieve the Agency’s mandate.