Lagos: As part of its corporate social responsibility, Airtel Nigeria, the Nigerian arm of Indian mobile service provider Airtel, is joined forces to fight the huge problem of fake drugs in the West African nation. Under a deal signed between Airtel Nigeria and the the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the mobile service provider would enable its customers send SMSs at reduced rates to authenticate their medications. The consumer can do this by texting a scratch code on the drug packaging to NAFDAC.

All anti-malaria drugs and some other products will be covered by the scratch code from January.

NAFDAC chief Paul Orhii said the agency wants to make this service affordable and accessible to more Nigerians. He expressed satisfaction that Airtel was willing to provide SMSs at a reduced rate to support the agency's Mobile Authentication Service (MAS).

Orhii said that with the MAS, NAFDAC has given millions of Nigerians the power to detect counterfeit drugs and food.

However, the service still needs extensive publicity because of the country's low literacy level, he said.

Airtel Nigeria CEO Rajan Swaroop said: “Airtel is willing to provide SMS services at an affordable and reduced rates to support NAFDAC's Mobile Authentication Services.”

“The company would continue to support initiatives aimed at eliminating counterfeit drugs in Nigeria,” he said.

In August 2009, a Nigerian delegation led by Orhii visited India to seek support for the war against import of fake dugs from India.

Orhii said that at his prompting the Indian drug regulatory authority was pushing through Parliament legislation that would impose a life term on anybody who manufactures and exports fake drugs to Nigeria.

Similarly, any Nigerian drug importer who connives with an Indian drug company to produce fake drugs will also be jailed for life on conviction by a court.

Orhii said the agency has taken tough measures in collaboration with its Indian counterpart to deal decisively with fake drug offenders.

“The Indian government was as worried as the Nigerian government about the problem of fake drugs. The Indian pharmaceutical industry is highly advanced and produces good quality drugs but a few bad eggs are trying to paint the country bad,” he said.

“The Indian high commissioner to Nigeria has visited and discussed with us this problem and has shown readiness to team up with us to check the incidence. Our new strategy is to encourage the production of good quality and affordable drugs that would chase fake drugs out of Nigerian markets. We are breaking new ground and are determined to sustain the momentum,” Orhii added.

(Agencies)