There is no doubt that Sustainable Development Goal 3 places great priorities on populations’ health with sub target 3.8 placing premium on safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
However, what is vital in achieving this goal is greatly undermined which is the need to address the growing menace of counterfeit medicines especially in Africa where it is rearing its ugly head. It was based on this prevailing reality that Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Enhancing Africa’s response to transnational organized crime (enact) and European Union (EU) gathered in Abuja to address the issue to help prevent widespread death. Ochiaka Ugwu was there for Peoples Daily.
The fact remains that there is need to build knowledge and skills to create the necessary awareness on the rise of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Africa due to its devastating effects on the lives of the populace. It was what made stakeholders in the sector gather in Abuja to deliberate on the way to tackle Medicrime by launching a study on rise of pharmaceutical counterfeit in Africa.
Speaking during the lunch, IPCR Acting Director General, Dr. Bakut Tswah Bakut said given the high rise of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Africa there is need to rise to the occasion as it will reinforce awareness creation on the increase of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and other medical products in Africa. Bakut hopes that it will inspire appropriate actions to halt the menace or in the least, curb the upsurge.
Bakut noted that widespread distribution of counterfeit or fake pharmaceuticals remains a serious threat to lives, political and socioeconomic wellbeing of the society with peace and security not exempted.
He said that on a daily basis, this unfortunate menace is taking a heavy toll on African societies frustrating genuine efforts of national reconstruction and general advancement.
He informed that emergence and growth of ’illicit economy’ on which the sales of fake and counterfeited consumables thrive require urgent but aggressive joint actions of relevant authorities at domestic and regional levels.
According to Bakut, “It is worrisome to note that the medicines and other pharmaceutical products being used for the treatment of most common but deadly diseases such as malaria, typhoid, syphilis, HlV just to mention a few of them are the most counterfeited.
“The World Health Organization (The Guardian, Lagos, September 13, 2018) estimates that 10 percent of the medicines in circulation in low and middle income countries like Nigeria are either fake or substandard, while a new study by the JAMA Network Open Journal indicates the circulation of 19 percent of counterfeit drugs in sub-Saharan Africa”.
In his opening remark, Technical Coordinator of enact, Mr. Mathew Ewi said the purpose of the seminar was to launch a new study in the form of a policy brief on the rise of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Africa written by Robin Cartwright and Ana Baric.
He said the study will help in increasing awareness and knowledge on the developments and trends in counterfeit medicines in West Africa with a view to enable governments, pharmaceutical companies, civil society, media and citizens to act against the counterfeit medicines.
Ewi said the issue of counterfeit medicines is a global emergency noting that every region has been affected with Africa having the lion share of the problem.
Ewi said the issue of counterfeit or substandard medicines is more complex and more serious than just a labeling issue and is really about networks and transnational syndicates of criminal individuals who deliberately and illegally manufacture, transport, import, export and sell items whose contents are far from what they claim to be.
He informed that the manufacture and proliferation of counterfeit drugs for malaria, typhoid, HIV and other killer diseases have significantly increased the risks of people dying from these diseases, because people end up consuming some very dangerous concoctions and toxic mixes of extremely dangerous products that only aggravate their pain and suffering.
His words, “The issue of counterfeit medicines is not new to Africa. For the past several decades, millions of Africans, more than in any other region of the world have died as a result of consuming fake or substandard drugs. What is however new is the unimaginable intensity and widespread nature of these falsified products. Today, individuals or groups seeking nothing but profits or hot cash, sit in the comfort of their kitchens or in illegal laboratories and produce fake medicines.
“Estimated to worth between US$200 billion and US$400 billion annually, the illegal trade in counterfeit medicines is a highly lucrative criminal economy. Counterfeit medicines account for as much as 30% of the market in Africa, and up to 50% in countries like Nigeria. This means that half of the medicines circulating in this country could be fake. What this also tells us is that there is a clear demand for these products or that people are not given the choices.
“Counterfeit pharmaceuticals weaken the efforts of governments; drug companies and civil society to improve access to quality medication. Our attention to address the problem must therefore focus on how to eliminate the demand and supply chains and address the fundamental issues of poverty, corruption and knowledge gaps that often undercut the issue of counterfeit medicines.
“The Consequences of the failings of governments to halt counterfeit medicines seriously undermine the health of state and threatened the foundation of statehood, national unity and efforts aimed at achieving economic development” Ewi noted.
Also speaking, the representative of European Union Delegation, Stefania Marrone said the issue of counterfeit pharmaceuticals is thus a multidimensional problem whose effects are so numerous and intertwined that the full extent of its detrimental impact just cannot be properly grasped.
She said for that reason, studies will be very relevant saying they are pleased that EU could support it through the EU-funded ENACT project implemented by the Institute for Security Studies and congratulated the Institute and the IPCR for undertaking it.
Her words, “Ladies and gentlemen, if understanding the consequences of counterfeit medicines is difficult, so is addressing the root causes of this plight. It requires strong political will and important financial and human means to take measures on both the demand and supply sides. As demonstrated with previous cooperation projects, the EU is committed to support its partners in developing these means on both fronts.
“When it comes to the supply side in particular, it is paramount that we support each other as the criminal networks behind it spread across the Asian, African and European continents. International cooperation is therefore a key requisite for us to succeed in this common effort against this illicit market which is 10 to 25 times more profitable than the drug one.
“In this respect, let me underline the relevance of the Medicrime convention of the Council of Europe as a tool enabling legislative harmonization guaranteeing the application of dissuasive sanctions ensuring the protection of victims and above all providing a framework for international cooperation. We therefore call on all our partners including Nigeria as a very important one to accede to it.
“Let us be clear nowadays, the Medicrime convention is the sole and best international 1egislative instrument available to fight these criminal networks that undermine the health and life of our citizens as well as our economies and political stability. It is our duty to commit to it no matter the opposition from a few states, which unsurprisingly happen to be countries of origin of falsified medicines.
Always in the context of a balanced approach between law enforcement and drug demand reduction, the European Union, through UNODC, is implementing in Nigeria the project “Response to Drugs and Related Organised Crime”. In the framework of this project, the EU and our Nigeria partners will launch the National Drug Use Survey on the 29th January” she stated.
Chief Research fellow, Directorate of Defence and Security Studies of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Dr. Joseph Ochogwu who served as one of the panelists stressed the need to prioritize the fight against counterfeit pharmaceutical hinting that many Africans have died as a result.
Ochogwu said that the authority should look at the supply and demand side saying that if the right drugs don’t get to people they will certainly make do with what is available to them.
The representatives of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) NAFDAC, Nigerian Prisons Service and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) all spoke on the need to nip the activities of purveyors of fake drugs on the bud.