Stakeholders Canvass Inter-Agencies Collaboration in Fighting Counterfeit Medicines

-As U.S. Embassy, American Business Council, hold Intellectual Property Symposium

For the huge scourge of counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical sector to become a thing of the past, there is need for strategic synergy between public and private sectors, as well as cordial collaboration among government agencies, to put a stop gap to the manufacturing of fake and substandard pharmaceuticals in the country, stakeholders have said.

The pharma industry key players also lamented the colossal loss of lives attributed to the usage of counterfeit drugs, saying significant progress can only be achieved on the challenge if all parties will embrace intellectual property rights (IPR) protection as a key policy in Nigeria and for businesses in Nigeria.

These and others were the submissions made at the Intellectual Property Symposium  organised by the United States Mission in Nigeria and the American Business Council, in collaboration with the Nigerian government, held at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, from 16 -17 September 2019.

The symposium, which was widely attended by top government functionaries and policy makers in different sector of the economy, had in attendance, Director General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye; Chief Executive, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Mr Babatunde Irukera;  Director General of Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Mr John Asein; Director General, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Dr Olusegun Ojo; Senior officials of the Nigeria Police, Nigerian Army, Nigeria Customs Service, representative of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) among others.

Addressing participants at the symposium, Tanya Y. Hill, International Computer Hacking (ICHIP) attorney adviser, Sub-Saharan African, United States Department of Justice, expressed the delight of the Embassy and its partner in bringing together leading minds across Nigeria to examine the benefits of strong intellectual property protections and enforcement to the Nigerian creative, pharmaceutical, and industrial sectors, and their impact on the diversification of the Nigerian economy.

She noted that the two-day symposium will launch the Regional Pharmaceutical Crime Working Group, with the responsibility of building on the capacity programming that the U.S Department of Justice (USDOJ) office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development and Training (OPDAT) has undertaken in the region to address the illicit trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

U.S. Embassy Chargé d’affaires, Kathleen FitzGibbon, in her remarks, noted that the whole essence of intellectual property rights protection is to enhance innovation and creativity needed to bolster economic growth.

While highlighting some merits of intellectual property rights protection to include jobs creations and opening of new markets for goods and services, she said the challenge is not limited to a nation, rather it is a global issue. “This is not just an American issue, this is a global issue and as Nigeria moves ahead with goals of diversifying and shifting to a knowledge-based economy, a strong intellectual property rights regime will help attract investment and protect Nigerian ideas and Nigerian businesses,” Chargé FitzGibbon said.

In his keynote address, Professor Adebambo Adewopo (SAN), a former DG of the NCC, stressed that the opportunities and challenges of the global economy can only leave an unconnected country behind.

“While the IP debate has not been entirely new, one of the missing elements has been effective collaboration and cooperation that is needed to drive the debate and build momentum not only for achieving reform but also to combat both the domestic and worldwide industry of counterfeiting, piracy and cybercrime.

“Building strategic alliances within and outside the country is therefore critical considering the global nature of digital technologies that are readily available to this formidable industry. In these alliances, we are also seeking to strengthen key institutions responsible for protecting IPR and combating counterfeiting and piracy” Adewopo stated.

Describing the situation in the pharmaceutical sector, where more of research and development is conducted into medicines and new drugs to address various human conditions, he asserted that without a strong IP system to protect their investments, it is impossible to sustain their properties, and that is why counterfeiting is killing the industry.

“There is need for collaboration between the private and the public sector. The private in the sense that they are the owners of the medicines, then the public sector can help in the enforcement of laws against counterfeiting of the products. A synergy is highly needed, for instance, among NAFDAC, Customs and SON, as they are all responsible in different ways to ensuring that counterfeiting is subdued in the country”.

Responding to the discussion on inter-agencies collaboration, the NAFDAC DG, Prof. Adeyeye, concurred with the submission of Adewopo, but alleged that the management of SON has not been helping in terms of proper cooperation, noting that SON is supposed to monitor and regulate each component of a product, but that has not been in operation in Nigeria.

Adeyeye, who expressed her worries over the situation of things in the country, said the laws that created the agencies are creating more issues for the agencies, as the question of ‘who controls what’? among sister agencies has always been an issue.

She said: “A situation where a primary agency has become a secondary agency is what we have at hand. And this is not so with the United States SON or FDA, but we have problems here, thus, we need to see how to make things work, because if it is working in the U.S., it should work here in Nigeria”.

For Margaret Olele, chief executive officer, American Business Council, she saw the symposium as a result-driven advocacy against counterfeiting and piracy, saying that when several voices come together to reverberate and cheer the challenges around counterfeit or piracy, definitely, there are bound to be sure solutions to the challenge.

“Talking about is always the first step, pulling together people who will talk about it, like the law makers, policy makers, and looking at how we’ll slowly but surely kick against the issue of counterfeiting and piracy is critical”, she emphasised.

The American Business Council is the affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce and the voice of US businesses in Nigeria. The Council works with critical stakeholders – US Embassy and other critical stakeholders to improve the business environment. “Intellectual Property rights creates an incentive for innovation and investment in research and development. Both are critical to the future of any business, and the economic growth of a country. IP protection is of key interest to US companies as issues of innovation and respect for knowledge assets constitute our intrinsic culture”, said the President of American Business Council, Dipo Faulkner.

The exhibitions at the symposium provided a platform to stress the importance of strengthened intellectual property laws and showcasing products and services of interest to public and private stakeholders. It was an opportunity to meet an array of prospective Nigerian buyers and partners. A movie screening of a Nigerian-produced documentary film, ‘Fishbone’, which capturing the issues on counterfeit pharmaceuticals was displayed.

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