Remembering Dora Akunyili

Once-upon-a-time, fake drugs and substandard food products such as stockfish, turkey, chicken, rice, fish etc, industrial chemicals, cosmetics and wines created a huge market in Nigeria. Both foreign and local irresponsible elements out-snookered or connived with some powerful authorities to flood our country with these fake products.

The ripple and domino effects were the deaths of innocent people and the dent on our image as a nation, respectively. According to thisdaylive.com, in 1989, over 150 children died as a result of Paracetamol syrup containing diethylene glycol. This was how bad the situation was.

It was an affront on our collective sensibility as a nation to watch this thing happen in our soil and not be able to say jack because it was being perpetrated by a group of ‘cabals’ that is similar to the ‘drug barons’ in Mexico. So, their flower bloomed at the expense of the lives of innocent Nigerians.

When these products seemed to have piled into thick-huge-odious debris in the country, it became a national embarrassment and so The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was birthed (in 1993) and empowered to make a clean sweep of them all.

The agency did its utmost but, it seemed as though it was just pouring grains into a bag with plenty holes. The flowers of the cabals still bloomed and this time, with reckless intensity.

All that changed on the 12th of April 2001.

It was on this date that the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo appointed late Prof (Mrs.) Dora Nkem Akunyili the Director-General of NAFDAC.

In the weeks that followed, a warm wind blew through the country as though Nigeria breathed for the first time, on her own, after being in a state of a protracted coma.

Dora Akunyili- the Amazon as she was fondly called- stirred the stream in which these flagrant frauds had bathed in and plotted the deaths of many people in the past years. Within a fraction of two years of fighting might and main with them, she clamped some of them down and made them pay for their sins (see table below).

Most of us didn’t know squat about NAFDAC until Dora’s arrival as the Director-General and it was for her impeccable and matchless sense of probity and sincere hard work that the evil fire of these people were brought to the fore and extinguished.

Dora Akunyili was a special gift to us; she was, above all things, a pharmacologist-extraordinaire, a pathfinder, a beacon and a determined woman. For even in the face of danger, she marshalled adequate courage and fought like a lion. We could still remember the Aba assassination attempt on her life. The assassin’s bullet practically flew through her gele without hurting a strand of her hair. That was God fighting her fight and she never… gave up.

I will hold her achievements as the Information Minister in reserve but in all her active years in serving her father land- Nigeria- Dora proved to be a shining soul with steel in her spine and gold in her heart. Her success is unparalleled and we may never have her kind in years to come.

This is about 168 days she wore wings and flew away with the angels in the blaze of glory, but the bare bone truth is that her legacies will forever remain indelible.

Dangers Posed By Fake Drugs and other Substandard Products

There are countless medical problems fake drugs and substandard products could cause but for the benefit of this piece, I will state just a few but I certainly will be writing expansively about these dangers in no time. Some of them are:

  1. Outright death
  2. Prolonged illness
  3. Chronic diseases
  4. Grave side effects

Conclusion

It seems to me that the war against fake drugs has gone cold in Nigeria again. NAFDAC and other regulatory agencies should ‘up their game’ and make sure that the cartels who were chased out of business by late Mrs Dora, of blessed memory, don’t consider going back again.

This is our fight. All of us. All hands must be on deck to make sure that the right things are done properly.

I am also appealing to the conscience of people who engage in the business of producing, importing or marketing fake or substandard products. Producing these things for public consumption is likened to the proverbial stone threw into a market filled with people. One of your own might just be hurt.

P.S- last year (2013), NAFDAC brought out Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) in Nigeria to help us identify fake drugs and other substandard products. With this service, you could check if a drug is original or not with your mobile phone before purchasing it.

Follow this step before purchasing any drug:

Check for a unique panel (like that of a # 400 recharge card or a JAMB scratch card). Every MAS enabled drug comes with a unique 10-digit pin. Scratch off the panel and text the unique 10-digit pin to 38353. After a few seconds, you will get a reply telling you if the drug is original or not. This also works for some cosmetics and it is totally free.

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