NewsWest AfricaTens of thousands die in Africa each year due to fake drugs


Posted on Monday, 19 November 2018 15:19

Tens of thousands die in Africa each year due to fake drugs

An HIV/AIDS baby cries as she is carried by a caregiver at the Sparrows Nest, a home run by Sparrow Ministeries which cares for adults and children with HIV/AIDS, in Roodepoort, South Africa, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001. Photo: DENIS FARRELL/AP/SIPWhen Moustapha Dieng suffered stomach pains, he worried about the cost of the doctor's prescription. Instead, he went to an unlicensed street vendor in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, who sold him medicine on the cheap.

"I went to hospital, I had a stomach ache. I was prescribed medication but when I went to buy it at the pharmacy, I found it to be too expensive. So I had to buy street drugs, because they are much cheaper" Dieng said.

But within days, Dieng, a 30-year old tailor, was in hospital. The drugs he was given were counterfeit and only made him worse.

Tens of thousands of people in Africa are dying needlessly each year because of fake and counterfeit medication, a E.U.-funded report released on Tuesday (November 13) said, a thriving trade in bogus drugs mostly made in China.

Almost half the fake and low-quality medicines reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) between 2013 and 2017 were found to be in sub-Saharan Africa, the report, also backed by Interpol and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said.

"What we sell comes from all over, there are drugs from Burkina, Nigeria, Lagos, Ghana, it's from all over," said Burkinabe street drug vendor Robert Congo.

Substandard or fake anti-malarials caused the deaths of between 64,000 and 158,000 people per year from a perfectly curable disease, the report said.

West Africa hub for counterfeit drugs

More than 80 children were killed in Nigeria in 2009 by a teething syrup tainted with a poisonous chemical normally used in engine coolant, and blamed for causing kidney failure.

West Africa has become a hub for fake and counterfeit drugs, which - aside from China - are also made in India, Paraguay, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

Ivorian authorities said last month they had seized almost 400 tonnes of fake medicine over the past two years.

The threat to human lives and to Africa's growing pharmaceutical market has prompted Ivory Coast - where fake drugs were also sold openly - to crack down on the trade, estimated at $30 billion by Reuters last year.

To raise awareness around the dangers of fake drugs, members of the Ivorian advocacy group the National Committee Against Trafficking of Fake Drugs have taken the fight to the streets, holding public talks in some of Abidjan's busiest streets.

But in Ivory Coast, like in many parts of the continent, many cannot afford to shop in pharmacies, which often only stock relatively expensive drugs imported from France, rather than cheaper generics from places like India.

Research from World Health Organisation (WHO) in November 2017 identified low income nations as the worst affected by counterfeit drugs.

"So this is a criminal activity, you can focus on and try to find the source of this. The problem is also the access of the real medicine, the cost to buy them is too high so poor people are just despaired (they despair) to find something, anything that they think could help them," said Ruth Dreifuss, Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Only 37 out of 54 African states have some level of pharmaceutical production.

African states import 70% of their pharmaceutical products, spending disproportionate amounts of state resources on procuring rather than creating drugs.

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