Communication Dysfunction: How Counterfeit Products Are A Threat To Consumers’ Health – Special Reports
In 2021, 29-year-old surveyor, Justice Nwaobasi, after complaining of a mild fever purchased an analgesic over the counter at a patent medicine store to relieve him of the situation.
According to Mr. Nwaobasi, rather than feeling relieved, he was gradually becoming weak and immovable.
The surveyor disclosed that he would have died, but for the help of family members who moved swiftly to resuscitate him.
Nwaobasi believed he had consumed a counterfeit analgesic.
This was similar to the experience of Osinachi, a news reporter in Port Harcourt, one which she claims has affected and stopped her from using body creams or lotions. According to Osinachi, “Mum bought one jergens that gave everybody skin rashes and eczema and we couldn’t return it.”
The cases of Nwaobasi and Osinachi are not strange within environment, as counterfeit products have gained uncontrolled access into the Nigerian market as it is in the international market that it has become difficult in identifying the original from the fake, unfortunately, even in some hospitals. There is no gain saying the fact that the dangers of falsified products is a daily and constant companion that needs urgent intervention. Counterfeit products are a threat to consumers’ health and by a logical extension their lives.
Grave dangers have been linked to counterfeit products consumed (food, drink, medicines) or put directly on the skin (cosmetics, fragrances).
Africa remains the continent most affected by counterfeits and with Nigeria being its most populous country. Little wonder the nation is facing an “epidemic” of fake products in some cases she is referred to as a dumping ground if the level of fake and counterfeit consumables that find their way into our market is anything to go by. Indeed, it is a menace, a clear and present danger.
Previous studies by the Economic Co-operation and Development have revealed that African countries are targeted destinations for counterfeit goods such as pharmaceuticals, foods, and beverages.
Key economies in Africa, such as Nigeria, must assume a leading role in deepening the conversation, raising awareness and acting against the counterfeiting of intellectual property rights (IPR).
WHAT DO MEDICS SAY?
A medical practitioner Dr. Paul Kue hints that counterfeit drugs are a danger to human health and could lead to drug and product abuse due to their impotency to address the ailments it was prescribed for and hence cause organ collapse.
Dr. Paul revealed that some cancer of the liver are largely traced to high consumption of drugs noting that substandard drugs are a critical challenge confronting most developing countries.
He explained that the most frequent consequences of using fakes are biological, chemical, and physical injuries, to mention a few revealing that most counterfeit drugs are produced by moneybags to enrich themselves.
MARKETERS’ COMPROMISE MAY LEAD TO THE PROLIFERATION OF COUNTERFEIT PRODUCTS
A staff of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, revealed that some counterfeit products found their way into the market due to the compromise of some company representatives.
He notes that sometime in 2022, NAFDAC raided pharmacies to stop the sale of fake Augmentin, revealing that the fake product found its way into the pharmaceutical markets by sales reps who worked for the manufacturer, GSK.
Okorie noted that the sales reps purchased the fake Augmentin with the cloned labeling batch number and mixed it with the original one. He insisted that some marketers play major roles in pushing counterfeit drugs into the market.
HOW ARE PRODUCTS PROTECTED FROM COUNTERFEITS
The disparity between original and counterfeits is often not conspicuous as some consumers cannot differentiate which product is original and which has been cloned.
For Ada, there is a dearth of doubt about a product she purchases from a plug she trusts. She explained that she consumes products from people “she can trust”
However, this isn’t the case for Oluchi whose choice of a product is based on the brand name and its popularity. She reveals that “the brand name is involved when purchasing a product.
Several methods have been applied by manufacturers in protecting their products from counterfeiting. Producers have also deployed barcodes and labeling as means of protecting their products.
Early this year, I purchased an EVA SOAP for use. Out of curiosity, I scanned the barcode attached to the product and realized that the inscription was cosmetic and had no link to the manufacturer.
I purchased another of the said product at a bigger departmental shop and deployed the same method which came out positive.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control says despite stringent methods deployed by manufacturers in protecting their products from counterfeits, several products have been cloned.
The Agency notes that the copy of original products has successfully found its way into the market by recycling used containers and cans of the original products.
A staff of the Agency George Okorie revealed that many fake manufacturers are engaging scavengers in obtaining bottles, containers, and cans of original products to adulterate the content.
George revealed that raids carried out in pubs indicate that over 70 percent of drinks consumed were counterfeit products and also noted that the barcode technology is often forged by these fraudulent manufacturers.
INFORMATION DYSFUNCTION MAY SURGE PATRONAGE
There seems to be a disconnect between the manufacturing organization and the consumers. Information of distinct features such as trademarks, labeling, and barcode inscription on original products differentiates it from the fake.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1 in 10 medical products in low- and middle-income countries is substandard or falsified.
The Director, National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Rivers State, Young Ayo-Tamuno has said that the agency collaborates with relevant agencies in sensitizing the people against the patronage of substandard products.
Ayo Tamuno affirmed that there has been arm-tight collaboration in the fight against substandard and counterfeit products, and agreed that the agency has been effective in sensitizing Nigerians on identifying counterfeit products.
He revealed that the collaboration with manufacturers has not been cordial noting that the agency will step up and will not relent in sensitizing consumers on pecks in identifying counterfeited products.
WHICH WAY OUT?
Doctors say that counterfeit products, because they are substandard and have not passed the required process before entering into the market cannot be guaranteed and comes with a negative impact on consumers.
It is therefore important to combat the distribution of counterfeit goods in Nigeria as it is essential to protect society, the economy, and the environment from the threats they pose.
The aim of the cartel behind the production of pirated products is probably to make money and not to benefit the consumers hence, the Nigerian government must make laws that will stiffen the operations of these groups of people as there is no specific anti-counterfeiting law broad enough to cover all classes of goods.
The public relations office of NAFDAC Rivers State, CYRIL MONYE has hinted that the agency was yet to secure convictions on issues of counterfeits. Situations such as this strengthen the trade despite the health risk they pose.
The agency has also hinted that lack of proper funding in acquiring working tools that will aid the detection of fake products as drinks affects its productivity.
A source in NAFDAC revealed that when raiding PUBS, officials of the agency are being accompanied by the distilling company because ‘we do not have the machine for testing the product if it is fake’.
Government agencies saddled with the responsibility of sensitizing Nigerians and ensuring consumers’ protection must begin massive advocacy informing consumers of the red flags of products presumed to be counterfeited.
While the Director of the National Orientation Agency, Young Ayo-Tamuno acknowledges partnership with relevant agencies, the information gap on product labeling, barcoding, and trademarks should be amplified for consumers’ awareness.
By FAUSTINA NWANEKWU