Counterfeit medicines: a threat to Africa’s development

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The proliferation of counterfeit medicines in Africa, is becoming a challenge to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3), a new policy brief dubbed ‘The Rise of Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals in Africa’, has said.

The study noted that the development places significant emphasis on populations’ health, with its sub-target 3.8, specifying access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

Launched in Accra with a focus on its implications for Ghana and West Africa, the brief embodies key findings and recommendations. It was conducted by Enhancing Africa’s response to Transnational Organised Crime (ENACT), a European Union (EU) funded project under its Pan-African Programme support agenda.

“Yet remarkably missing from the discourse around achieving this goal is the need to address the growing phenomenon of counterfeit medicines, which disproportionately affects developing countries,” Eric Pelser, ENACT Programme Head of the Institute for Security Studies, said.

Mr Pelser said counterfeit medicines put people’s life at risk, finance criminal groups and caused profound public health challenges, yet the full scale of the challenge in Africa was not fully understood, but research suggests that the problem and its impact are severe.

He said the growing incidence of the so-called falsified and substandard medical products, was arguably the most insidious and evil form of illegal trade which leads to widespread loss of lives, accounting for between 64,000 and 158,000 otherwise avoidable deaths annually from malaria alone in sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the phenomenon is not specific to Africa, counterfeiters preyed on poor countries more than their richer counterparts with up to 30 times greater penetration of fakes in the supply chain compared to the one percent in the developed world, he said.

Mr Pelser said to make headway in achieving the SDG 3, the issue of counterfeit medicines must be moved higher up on policy agenda, saying evidence elsewhere have suggested that there would be scope for significant positive results.

He said addressing the problem in Africa, may help prevent widespread loss of life, and mitigate other public health and safety risks, and that African States must prioritise the issues, and responses should include a substantial overhaul of the analytical, legal, educational, regulatory and enforcement systems around the medical supply chains, to help strengthen the mechanisms for combating medicine fraud.

These responses, he said, would need to be coordinated within a global effort, including setting up a database of intelligence on counterfeits, and improved awareness-raising campaigns. He recommended that national medicines regulatory authorities be tasked to regularly investigate mass serialisation forms of track-and-trace.

Mr Pelser said the increasing trend of these illicit trading showed that counterfeiters found Africa an easier target because it has not developed the West’s armoury of responses to these fake drugs, citing the Europe and USA’s enviable supply chain regulation, track-and-trace technology and enforcement regimes, as defenses that were wholly lacking in African countries.

The paper, he said, sets out the scale and effects of the problem and recommends a comprehensive programme to awareness creation, as well as measurement, legal, supply chain and enforcement activities, to begin the enormous task of reducing counterfeits in Africa.

Mrs Martha Gyansa-Ludtterodt, the Director of Pharmaceutical Services at the Ministry of Health, and also Chief Pharmacist, urged all stakeholders to form a united front to fight against the proliferation of these counterfeit pharmaceuticals on the Ghanaian market.

She said the presence of these illicit medications has become a huge setback to the country’s achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), saying fake drugs including anti-malarials, dewormers, pain killers, Tramadol, codeine and aphrodisiac drugs brought into the country by unknown persons, continue to be seized by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), however, such sporadic seizers would not solve the huge problem of the illicit trading unless stakeholders joined forces to fight the menace.

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