A deadly market of counterfeit medication has been existing and growing in Africa and has been especially prominent since 2013.
It is reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) that between 2013 and 2017 almost half the counterfeit and low quality medicines in the world were found in Sub-Saharan Africa. WHO also estimates that every year some 100,000 people in Africa suffer death from taking “falsified or substandard” medication. This influx has resulted in deaths that amount to the tens of thousands annually as reported by an E.U funded report. The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that in 2015,122,000 children under the age of five had died due to poor quality anti-malarial drugs in Sub-Saharan Africa. This market has been thriving on the continent due to weak legislation, poor health care and poverty.
Moustapha Dieng from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso experienced stomach pain in 2018 and went to a doctor. He was prescribed malaria treatment but the cost proved too expensive for the 30-year-old tailor, he resorted to buying his medication from an unlicensed street vendor instead. Within days Moustapha found himself in hospital, sickened by the drugs he thought would treat his ailment.
Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi was struck down by malaria and typhoid. He made a purchase of his prescription at his neighbourhood clinic but strangely enough he grew worse after starting his course of medication. He even got more ill as the days passed until he lost mobility and was eventually admitted to the university hospital in the capital Lomé. He was told by the doctors he had suffered kidney damage from the quinine and antibiotics he had been sold as they were fake. Over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and goes to the hospital for regular dialysis.
These unfortunate tales are far from unique as the African continent remains awash with fake medicines. The drugs that are usual culprits of either being ineffective copies, poor or out of date are anti-malarials and antibiotics. The source of the bogus drugs is hard to trace as the manufacturers deliberately put fake information on the packaging as a way to hide themselves. It is suspected, however that the fake medicines originate mostly from China and India.
There has been several attempts to stop this influx of counterfeits. Togo was one of the pioneer countries to try and ebb the flow. The country saw a change in law in 2015 and traffickers now face 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of some $85 000(75 000 euros). Last year in July the country also saw to burning of over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. In mid-November in Ivory coast, police seized 200 tonnes of counterfeit medicines in Abidjan and four suspects were arrested including one who was a Chinese national.
There have also been efforts to dismantle gateways for the fakes heading over to other nations such as the Adjegounle market in Cotonou which had medicines headed to Nigeria. In Togo Lomé a two-day conference runs from Friday this month in a bid to tackle the scourge. Presidents of seven countries- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda are expected to meet and sign an agreement criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.
Do you think African countries are being targeted by smugglers because of poor border controls?