Counterfeit Drugs In Nigeria: A Threat To Public Health

The evil of fake drugs is worst than the combined Scourge of Malaria, HIV/AIDS and armed robbery put together. This is because Malaria can be prevented, HIV/AIDS can be avoided and armed robbery may kill a few at a time, but counterfeit/ fake drugs kill in mass – Edet Edu, 2022

To start with, drug counterfeiting poses a great danger to every society and the less the awareness, the more it gains root in the system. So, the first step towards combating counterfeiting is getting people to know that it exists with all its consequent deleterious effects.

It’s sine qua non to create awareness by talking about it whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. The World Health Organization estimates that there are over one million deaths annually from counterfeit and substandard drugs.
In Africa, tens of thousands of people die each year because of fake and counterfeit medication.

Each time I write about this, I am reminded of a 21-year-old boy named Peter at Okobo LGA, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.
I had witnessed a sad incident of Peter who suffered from severe malaria and he was taken to the pharmacy to purchase antimalarial medicine. Since it was a community Pharmacy, the pharmacist prescribed a malaria treatment but the medicine was too expensive for Peter, due to insufficient fund, he went to an unlicensed street vendors for pills on the cheap.

According to Peter, “the medicine was too expensive at the pharmacy”. I was forced to buy street drugs as they are less expensive, he said. Within  few days, he was hospitalized- sickened by the drugs that were supposed to cure him of malaria. From this sad story, you can easily know why a thumping majority of people purchase counterfeit medicines.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), counterfeit medicine is defined as follows

Counterfeit medicine is one, which deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and source.

Counterfeiting can apply to both branded and generic products and counterfeit products may include products with the correct ingredients or with wrong ingredients without active ingredients , with insufficient active ingredients or with fake packaging.

NAFDAC has identified various forms of fake/ counterfeit drugs in Nigeria.

  1. Drugs with no active ingredient (s).
  2. Drugs with insufficient active ingredients. For example, 60mg Chloroquine instead of 200mg.
  3. Drugs with active ingredients different from what is stated on the package. e. g Paracetamol tablets package and labelled as Fansidar (Sulphadoxine +Pyrimethamine).

4.Drugs without full name and address of the manufacturer.

  1. Expired drugs or drugs without expiry date or expired and re_labelled with the intention of extending their shelf life.

  2. Drugs not certified and registered by NAFDAC.


  •  Corruption and Conflict of interest: The factor that encourages drug faking Worldwide is corruption and conflict of interests. Corruption is a driving force for poor regulation, which encourages drug faking/ counterfeiting. The efficiency of personnel is adversely affected by corruption and conflict of interest resulting in Laws not being enforced and criminal not being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for crime. Insecure and unfriendly environment hamper the effort of regulatory authorities. The threat to the security of lives of staff and properties continues to pose great challenges to good and drug regulation in Nigeria.
  •  Inadequate cooperation from Government agencies: The absence of teamwork among the various sectors of Government in Nigeria ( NAFDAC, Customs, NDLEA, SON, NPA, Shipping lines) creates a fertile ground for counterfeiters to escape detection, arrest and sanction.
    Some of the criminally minded importers take advantage of this lack cooperation to propagate their illegal business.
  • There are unsafe pharmacies posing as online pharmacies: This is one of the challenges of purchasing counterfeit medicines as some consumers may turn to online pharmacies because of convenience, privacy and cost savings. However, some websites sell medicines that are detrimental to the consumer.


These are the ways to remedy this nefarious activities.

  • Staff re- orientation and motivation.
  • Restructuring and modernization of our regulatory processes.
  • Public enlightenment Campaigns.
  • Stopping the importation of fake drugs to Nigeria at source.
  • Mopping up what is already in circulation.
  • Regular Monitoring of Good Manufacturing practice ( GMP) of local manufacturers.
  • Strict enforcement of our registration guidelines.

Beefing up of surveillance at all port of entry.

Drug counterfeiting is the greatest evil of our time and the highest weapon of terrorism against public health. Meaning that, the evil of fake drugs is worst than the combined Scourge of Malaria, HIV/AIDS and armed robbery put together. This is because Malaria can be prevented, HIV/AIDS can be avoided and armed robbery may kill a few at a time, but counterfeit/ fake drugs kill in mass.

Edet Edu

EDET EDU is a student pharmacist, studying at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. He is a leader,mentor, inspirer, critical thinker, excellent footballer, health educator, creative writer, progressive minded and a Christian who embraces other religions without prejudice. He has received several awards in his profession, football and community service.

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