West Africa to be Proactive in Combating Counterfeit Drugs

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stakeholders in the health sector on Tuesday called for concerted efforts to combat counterfeit drugs plaguing the health of the people in West Africa.

The prevalence rate of counterfeit drugs in the sub-Saharan region is about 15 to 25 per cent of all medicines sold, thus endangering the lives of the masses, particularly the poor, who easily opt for fake drugs because they are cheaper.

The stakeholders said since quality medicine played a key role in improving quality of life of patients, access should be considered as basic human right.

Speaking at a forum in Accra on the theme: “Towards An ECOWAS Convention on Access to Quality Medicines,” Ms Bunmi Femi-Oyekan, Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs of Pfizer, a drug manufacturing company, said the situation could be addressed through strengthening of the regulatory systems in the sub-region through the pooling of resources.

She also suggested the need for a new anti-counterfeiting technology.

The forum is being held under the auspices of IMANI, a centre for Policy and Education based in Ghana, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health.

Participants are expected to come out with a communiqué that would serve as a starting point for other countries in the sub-region to join the campaign against counterfeit drugs.

Ms Femi-Oyekan suggested the establishment of systems and structures for joint evaluation, inspection, sharing and recognition of registered products and improvement of access to quality through an  agreement on common standards of manufacturing, distribution, surveillance and enforcement.

Dr Paul B. Orhii, Director General, Nigeria National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, in a speech read on his behalf said despite efforts of African governments over the years to provide essential medicines to the public, WHO estimates that roughly 270 million people on the continent lacked regular access to even the most essential medicines.

“Although poverty and social upheavals contribute to the problem, inadequate financing of the public sector, weak management systems, lack of accountability and a devastating reduction in the healthcare workforce also contribute greatly in creating a demand and supply gap.

“It is this gap that the drug counterfeiters capitalize on to market their products,” he said.

He described counterfeiting as a global problem, with 60 per cent of counterfeit medicines being found in developing nations.

It is also estimated that five to seven per cent of world trade estimated at $280 billion is lost to counterfeiting.

The Centre for Counterfeit Medicines in Public Health Interest projected that counterfeit drug sale will reach $75 billion dollars in 2010, which would represent a 92 per cent increase from 2005.

Pharmaceutical counterfeits in industrialised nations account for approximately one per cent and 10-30 per cent in developing nations.

Dr Orhii noted that counterfeit medicines created bad business for manufacturers, importers, healthcare providers and the national economy as well as destroying national image and affecting international diplomacy.

He therefore called for effective implementation of anti-counterfeiting strategies, through the support of government initiatives, the media and the public through adequate equipment for national control laboratories and the use of cutting-edge technology to fight the menace.

Mr Benjamin Botwe, Director, Special Duties, MOH, said national and international collaboration were important instruments in tracking down drug counterfeiters.

He reiterated the need for sustained public enlightenment campaigns, through the media and other means of communication, especially on traditional herbal medicine, which is known for a lot of counterfeiting.

Mr Botwe also called for the adoption of stringent sanctions against violators to reduce the incidence of counterfeit medicines in circulation.

“There is the need to strengthen existing national and international collaboration in the fight against drug counterfeiting to make West Africa counterfeit-free and ultimately improve availability of quality medicine within the sub-region,” he said.

Source: Ghana News Agency