A Private Luncheon Conversation with Dr. Dora Akunyili: Fighting Corruption in Drug Markets and Advancing Women in African Leadership
During a small, private meeting at the Wilson Center, Dora Akunyili, the first woman to head Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), outlined the importance of drug regulation and having women in leadership positions in African nations. Before April 2001, when NAFDAC was established to heighten drug regulation, the country had one of the world's highest levels of fake drugs.
Akunyili commented that an unpredictable consumer drug market is a form of public health terrorism: Nigerian patients on prescription medications cannot rely on drugs purchased from pharmacies, and legitimate multinational drug manufacturers have struggled in Nigerian markets because they are unable to sell quality products in a market infiltrated by inferior drugs. These inferior drugs include expired or uncertified drugs; drugs with very little or no active ingredients; and drugs sold to the general public without contact information printed on the label.
By fighting corruption through drug regulation, education, and training programs, NAFDAC has been able to reduce the number of fake drugs in the market by 90 percent. This reduction has enabled other West African countries to lift bans on Nigerian drugs, opened the Nigerian market to new drug manufacturers, and paved the way for the return of multinational drug companies. Public education has increased consumer awareness, and incentive programs are spurring high-school students to study drug control.
However, these improvements to Nigerian drug markets have not come easily. Since fake drugs are a lucrative business, NAFDAC employees—including Akunyili—have faced intimidation, harassment, and vandalism from fake-drug sellers. To demonstrate the seriousness of the situation, she reported her own experiences dealing with fake-drug dealers, including an assassination attempt.
Women in leadership positions throughout Africa, Akunyili said, could help reduce corruption. "Women tend to be less corrupt and more focused," she said, and noted, "[There are] many more great women leaders out there who need to be given a chance." Citing hurdles for women such as early marriage, poverty, unequal female inheritance rights, unequal employment practices, and unequal education expectations, Akunyili called for a concerted effort from national leaders to empower women through favorable policies, education, and community-based strategies. She believes that these measures, if accomplished, will show that in Africa "the best man for the job is a woman."
Akunyili's prepared speech is posted below