Thursday, 13 March 2008

Alteration of product expiry dates

The Nigerian Tribune has published a depressing Editorial, "Altering Product Expiry Dates". This piece states, in relevant part:

" ... Insecticide is used to destroy insects and protect lives and crops. A mosquito bite often means death in Nigeria. The gutters are swollen and stinking during the rainy season and mosquitos cannot imagine their good luck. Health ministries sprayed stagnant pools of water with insecticide in the past but not any more. It is a new Nigeria of fallen standards, selfishness and stolen wealth.

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has accused a Lagos chemical company of something worse than selfishness. The agency accused the company of knowingly and coolly breaking the law, of endangering the financial health of farmers and the well-being of Nigerians.

NAFDAC’s Deputy Director, Regulatory Affairs, Mrs. Ariz Madukwe, said at a news conference last week that the company changed both the dates of manufacture and expiry of an insecticide called Endocap. The chemical is used to keep insects away from crops.

The senior NAFDAC official said the insecticide was manufactured in April 2006 and had a potent shelf life of two years. Any unsold stock should have been withdrawn at the end of April, but the company was caught relabelling the product. The company is now claiming that the product was manufactured in January 2008, though it was to expire in April. The new expiry date for a product manufactured in 2006 was now January 2010.

The company is apparently a well established one. It has offices on Victoria Island and a warehouse in Ikeja. NAFDAC said the company was engaged in the criminal alteration of the expiry date of Endocap at its warehouse.

Will the Endocap caper lead to the deserved end of the company? Not likely. Though NAFDAC’s deputy director of regulatory affairs said workers of the chemical company were caught, relabelling the product, nobody was apparently arrested. The company was merely sealed off. The company might have been engaged in the criminal alteration of the expiry date of its brand of insecticide for many years before NAFDAC was tipped off.

There are drug companies in Nigeria set up to manufacture or sell unwholesome drugs. They have foreign collaborators. One Italian pharmaceutical company was set up to manufacture and export useless drugs to developing countries, especially those in Africa. The company said it was doing Africans a favour after it was exposed by the London Sunday Times. It said Africans could not afford efficacious drugs. The company was closed down by the Italian authorities following an international outcry.

This happened in the 1980s, at a time Nigeria had no drug regulatory authorities to speak of. Expired drugs were shipped to the country and they were openly sold in pharmacies and patent medicine shops. A pharmacist was arrested for selling expired drugs, but he was not tried. His pharmacy was reopened after being shut for a few days.

Babies died in a teaching hospital after being given medicine for cold. Their parents wept while the manufacturer of the drug of death laughed while cuddling their blood money. There was an enquiry that avoided apportioning blame.

The coming of Professor Dora Akunyili as Director General of NAFDAC halted the haughty stride of the merchants of death. Adulterated or expired drugs were seized and burnt. Markets where dangerous drugs were sold were sealed off for a time.

Bad medicines make millions for the manufacturers and they fought back. They burnt down two or three NAFDAC laboratories and attacked some of the agency’s staff members. Some people were charged with trying to murder Professor Akunyili.

It is the only trial of people suspected of manufacturing, adulterating or selling harmful drugs as far as we know. And they were tried for attempted murder with the use of a gun and not the killing of unsuspecting patients who take poisonous or non-potent drugs.

Why has nobody been convicted of manufacturing or selling unwholesome drugs? Has it to do with the absence of the necessary laws? Or is their enforcement the problem? Is NAFDAC being given the security and legal assistance that it needs?

Punishments should swiftly follow crimes, especially when the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are deliberately put at risk by people seeking easy riches. NAFDAC should make an example of the owners of the company that altered the expiry date of Endocap, its brand of insecticide.

A mosquito may not be blamed, but those who manufacture or sell dangerous drugs and chemicals deserve to be jailed".

The truth of the matter is that, so long as the profit to be derived from the sale of products outstrips the profit to be derived from increasing value of the goodwill in a brand and then leveraging it, companies will be more tempted to relabel their products than to encourage the belief that medicines made under their names and brands are reliable.

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