After seven years in the saddle, Nigeria's top food and drug regulator is stepping down this week to take up a Cabinet appointment. Professor Dora Akunyili's tenure has been hailed as
a huge success in a country plagued by tainted, fake or untested drugs.
The head of Nigeria's state food and drug administration, NAFDAC, Dora Akunyili, has won praise from Nigerians in the past seven years for having cut down on counterfeit and dangerous medicines. Nigeria has been plagued by tainted, fake or untested drugs since it gained independence from Britain in 1960.
Before Akunyili took over her post in 2001, a staggering 80 percent of the medications sold in Nigeria were deficient in one way or another.
The woman who described drug faking and counterfeiting as the greatest evil of our time waged a relentless crackdown, destroying substandard drugs worth hundreds of millions of dollars and prosecuting dozens of offenders. Akunyili says the campaign against fake, unregistered drugs will continue even when she ceases to be head of the drug agency.
"I am not surprised that the criminals are rejoicing that I will leave NAFDAC because they had done it before. In 2005, when my husband publicly announced that at the end of my tenure I will not continue in NAFDAC and that it was a family decision, there was popping of champagne and shooting of guns in the markets in celebration. And that was part of what motivated me to stay. But even if I leave NAFDAC, I should still be able to oversee what is going on in NAFDAC because NAFDAC is like a baby to me. I have nurtured it like a child and it will be very difficult to just leave NAFDAC and not find out what they are doing," said Akunyili.
More than 30 children died in November, apparently after being administered a teething mixture that was contaminated with the industrial solvent diethylene glycol. NAFDAC was criticized for not doing enough to prevent the infant deaths. But Akunyili says periodic infractions are not peculiar to Nigeria.
"It does not undermine our previous efforts. It is a challenge and we normally act and act very swiftly to arrest the situation. Even in developed countries, there are always stories about one formulation problem or the other," added Akunyili. "So it is not new for the company to have this type of problem. It happens once in a while and in this particular case of My Pikin we have arrested the situation."
Akunyili survived a number of assassination attempts, but leaves her post with the knowledge that less than 20 percent of drugs in Nigeria are now considered counterfeit or fake.