International health specialists have warned of a growing health calamity in several parts of Africa as a result of an influx of counterfeit medicine from Asia and other parts of the world. According to an article by The Guardian, dated 23 December 2012, negligent central governments in Africa coupled with indifferent oversight from states like China are combining to turn the continent and its pressing health issues into a ‘free-for-all for maverick manufacturers’, some of whom are producing fake medication with no active ingredients at all.
In 2012 the Secretary General of the national pharmaceutical order in Cameroon appealed to the government to fight against counterfeit medicine in the state especially in Yaoundé and Douala. Eric Sunjo, a member of the national pharmaceutical order in Cameroon, added that some of these counterfeit medicine was exposed to solar rays and therefore toxic for human consumption. Since then very little has been done to combat the sales of counterfeit medicine in the streets of Cameroon. Many Cameroonians die because of such medicines.
The problem of counterfeit medicine is not only peculiar to Cameroon. Counterfeit medicine is sold in the poor neighbourhoods of Cape Town in South Africa, in the streets of Ghana, in townships in Rwanda right up to ghettos in Cairo, Egypt. According to The Guardian, precise data is difficult to track down because of the informal nature of African health systems. But many recent studies warn that as many as one-third of malaria drugs in Tanzania and Uganda are fake or below average, with most believed to originate from Asia especially India. There has been great reluctance to call the scourge of killer medications in Africa a crisis.
The vice president of the US Pharmacopeial Convention’s global health impact programmes, Patrick Lukulay, alludes that it is no secret that the majority of fake medications came from India and China. According to Lukulay, China is not doing much to better this precarious situation. On the other hand, India is trying to ensure that the quality of medicine sent Africa is of commendable quality.
Though it may seem like an enormous amount of trouble to counterfeit a £3 packet of malaria pills, Lukulay adds that the global trade is estimated at £46bn a year. Counterfeiters master their markets properly. Efforts to combat the fake medication in Africa remain timid.
This indeed is a great calamity which adds to the death rates in Africa. Attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 especially in Africa, remains far-fetched if serious measures are not taken. Central governments in Africa remain reticent in combatting this ill. Instead of ensuring that fake medications do not inundate African markets, central governments allow the influx of counterfeit medicine while discouraging local markets.
Fighting fake medications is not an issue only of central governments. “If you want to be efficient in fighting it, you have to have a very strong regulatory authority, very strong collaborations, very good distribution networks and good co-operation between governments,” opines Sabine Kopp, who manages the anti-counterfeiting and medicines quality assurance programmes at the World Health Organisation. All the same this should not be an excuse for central governments in Africa to clamp down on viable manufactures with robust regulatory powers, because over regulation kills the purpose of regulation and thus free markets.
African states have the potential of encouraging the domestic private sector to manufacture good medication. Of course, this must be done under the scrutiny of quality control mechanisms. Encouraging local producers in no way shelves out competition from foreign competitors. All the same foreign competitors must ensure that they furnish proper medication to Africans and not counterfeit medicine which has contributed enormously to the loss of life of many Africans.