The proliferation of fake drugs in Africa, and their lethal consequences is a crisis that can no longer be ignored, says European Union (EU) Ambassador to Cameroon, Philippe Van Damme.
He was speaking in Yaounde recently during a meeting to draw attention to the dangers of using fake drugs.
The meeting was organized by the EU’s Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation, AFRIPI Project in coordination with the Africa Intellectual Property Organization, OAPI.
“Worldwide, USD200 billion worth of fake drugs are circulating on an annual basis, more than 40% of them in Africa,” Ambassador Van Damme said.
“Estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that more than 200,000 people in Africa alone die every year only by the use of fake medicines and this gives you a scale of the problem,” he added.
According to the Brazzaville Foundation, 120,000 children under the age of five die in Africa because of counterfeit antimalarial medicine, every year.
In Cameroon, the sector is responsible for the annual loss of CFA F 60 billion (some USD107 million) per year.
The death toll, as well as the economic consequences, may be staggering, but it happens that Africa still has weak institutions and limited finances to be able to cope with the crisis.
Mme. Abondo Ngono Mballa Rosine, Director-General of National Drug Quality Control and Valuation Laboratory noted that most of the medicines come in from Asia, and “very often, there is no real documentation on controls that have to be done in their country of origin, there is nothing regarding quality control done during their manufacture, so it’s just medicine because people are looking at boxes of tablets or vials.”
“It’s just to get money,” she asserted. She said such control mechanisms were even more difficult in a country like Cameroon where control lines are blurred.
“With Public health owned by one ministry and the market owned by another, and without clear coordination, it makes it harder to ensure the proper controls,” she regretted.
But Solange Kouakep who represented the Ministry of Public Health explained that Cameroon had what she called “a dynamic” multi-sectorial national committee comprising amongst others, the forces of law and order, officials of the ministries of Public Health, Justice, Trade as well as the National Quality Control Laboratory.
In addition, there is a national pharmaceutical regulatory authority that checks the quality of drugs sold in pharmacies, and “the government also carries out campaigns to draw the public’s attention to the dangers of consuming fake drugs.”
“Every drug that is sold outside the regulatory framework is fake,” Solange emphasized. She said the various structures created to fight against fake drugs were doing the best they can, citing a recent case in the West Region where a group of people were caught trying to change expiry dates pasted on the packaging of some drugs.”
“When a drug expires, that means that there are a lot of impurities, a lot of contaminants that will affect their quality,” Mme Abondo Ngono of the National Drug Quality Control and Valuation Laboratory explained.
There was, therefore, the clarion call on the government to empower the various structures in charge of handling the fake drugs crisis, so as to lessen the number of people dying by consuming fake drugs.