New York - Prof. Dora Akunyili, the former Minister of Information, was on Saturday honoured with the 2013 Healthcare Foundation Leadership Award in the U.S., the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.
The award took place at the 8th Annual Faces of Hope Banquet, organised by the Hackensack University Health Network in New Jersey, in partnership with the Nigerian Healthcare Foundation (NHF), a U.S. based firm.
Also Dr Ambrose Mgbako, a U.S-based Psychiatrist, was honoured with the 2013 "Legacy Humanitarian Award''.
Presenting the award, the Chairman of Hackensack University Medical Centre, Dr Jeffrey Boscamp, commended the former Director-General of the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for her industry and commitment to the values of honesty, transparency and selfless service.
He noted that Akunyili’s immense contribution to the fight against fake medicine in Nigeria and West African Sub-region would always be remembered, particularly her visionary leadership in healthcare.
"Akunyili has received more than 600 awards and recognition locally and internationally,’’ Boscamp stressed.
In her response, Akunyili said she regarded the award as special because it came more than four years after she had left office as the Director-General of NAFDAC, a position I used to intensely fight against fake medicines not only in Nigeria but also in West African sub-region.
"With this award, I am encouraged and motivated to work even harder not only in contributing to the fight against counterfeit medicine but also in the development of our dear country Nigeria.
"For me to be honoured here today proves that Nigerians, not only at home but also in the Diaspora, continue to appreciate my contribution in the fight against counterfeit medicine.
"In fact, as I am receiving this award, I am also being honoured back home with the Outstanding Achievement/Performance Award by the Nigerian Law School, Abuja, Students’ Representative Council as part of the Golden Jubilee celebration of that great institution.
"Since I could not possibly be at two different places at the same time, I arranged for someone to represent me at that event which took place today at Abuja,’’ she said.
Akunyili, however, noted that even though drug counterfeiting was a global problem, developing countries were more affected by the menace.
She added that the poor suffered the brunt because they lived under unhealthy conditions, feed poorly and were consequently more predisposed to ailments.
"Drug counterfeiting is one of the greatest atrocities of our time. It is mass murder. It is a form of terrorism against public health as well as an act of economic sabotage. Counterfeit drugs violate the right to life of innocent victims.
"Counterfeit Drug Merchants operated in Nigeria unchallenged for over three decades. It was a powerful Mafia coordinated through a transnational criminal network.
"They dumped fake drugs, unwholesome foods and other substandard regulated products in Nigeria until 2001 when I came on board as the Director-General of NAFDAC.
"Nigerians and the whole of the West African sub-region were at the mercy of counterfeit drug dealers. Corruption and lack of public awareness were the driving forces,’’ she stated.
According to her, consequently, Nigeria became rated as one of the countries with the highest incidence of fake/counterfeit drugs.
She also explained that the average incidence of counterfeit medicines was over 41 per cent from various studies done before 2001, while NAFDAC’s study in 2002 showed that 68 per cent of drugs in Nigeria were unregistered.
"Fake drugs embarrassed our health care providers and eroded the confidence of the public in our healthcare delivery system. It led to treatment failures, development of drug resistance and death.
"As people were dying, legitimate businesses were collapsing. Many multinational companies left Nigeria or divested out of frustration due to unfair competition with the counterfeiters.
"Made-in-Nigeria drugs were banned by other West African countries.’’
She, however, dedicated the award to the countless individuals and groups in Nigeria, toiling quietly and often without recognition to protect public health, and also to all those innocent people who have died from the use of fake drugs.