Hundreds of Nigerians are falling and dying and experts attribute the cause to counterfeit medicine. Mr. Bernard Otungo residing in Kenya, narrowly escaped death after ingesting counterfeit drugs.
Speaking with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC News Africa), Otungo said: “I almost died from counterfeit drugs.” Otungo, who is diabetic, recalling the incident like it happened yesterday, said: “I forgot my medicine at home on that particular day and so I decided to get another set of drugs at a nearby pharmacy.”
He said that after using the drugs, he realised that his sugar level was still not normal. He decided to use it a couple of times, but rather than improving, his condition worsened. Otungo said: “If one’s sugar level is not normal, it can lead to hypertension, which can affect the liver.
Since the drugs were not making me better, I decided to go to my usual supplier. Immediately I used the drugs, I felt better. If I hadn’t stopped using that medicine I bought from the nearby pharmacy, I would have died!” Another victim of counterfeit drugs is Mrs. Douglas, who said that she almost lost her son to fake medicine.
She said: “My son was very ill and finally hospitalised. He was kept on a particular injection called ‘pentatozin,’ which, according to our doctor, is powerful. But the injection wasn’t working. My son got weaker and he wouldn’t eat anything. It felt like my son was dying slowly, so the doctor decided to change the brand of the injection to the latest brand in town.”
Douglas said that after the second day of her son using the new brand of injection, he started talking and eating. She said if they had not changed the injection, her son would have died. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined counterfeit drugs, also known as fake drugs, as drugs which are deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to identity or source.
The issue of counterfeit medicines is also rampant in Nigeria. A pharmacist of over 30 years, Mr. Davies Akindele, said that the issue of counterfeit drugs could be better if the government enforces the laws and regulations made to regulate the profession of pharmacy in Nigeria Davies noted that there were different aspects of practicing pharmacy in Nigeria, which his own aspect was community and regulatory practice, which involves helping people all over the country to register their products, be it food or pharmaceutical products, with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
He also stated: “Your experience working as a pharmacist in Nigeria can be okay if you have contacts. If you’re familiar with the processes that are involved in registering a product with NAFDAC, and you follow the laws and regulations in practicing pharmacy. The effects of counterfeit medicines are very devastating and deadly. It is rampant in Nigeria and it exists in every country of the world; even the US is facing this problem. Many Nigerians are into it with reckless abandon.
“They take a drug that is very popular and highly purchased in the market, especially over the counter drugs (OTC), which do not need the prescription of a doctor to be purchased. They duplicate it, making people unable to differentiate between the fake and the original and that’s how good they are.”
Davies explained that the effects of fake drugs include un-improvement of sickness in the body of the victims, and it can also lead to death because the drugs had already been counterfeited. He said that it was advisable for retail and wholesale pharmacists to get their pharmaceutical products directly from the right source of production, in order to prevent buying and selling counterfeit drugs.
According to a research by WHO, an estimated 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low and middle income countries is either substandard or falsified. The WHO estimates that up to 1 percent of medicines available in the developed world are likely to be counterfeit. This figure rises to 10 percent globally, although in some developing countries it is 50 percent.
“This means that people are taking medicines that fail to treat or prevent disease. Not only is this a waste of money for individuals and health systems that purchase these products, but substandard or falsified medical products can cause serious illness or even death,” stated WHO.
WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Substandard and falsified medicines particularly affect the most vulnerable communities.
Imagine a mother who gives up food or other basic needs to pay for her child’s treatment, unaware that the medicines are substandard or falsified, and then that treatment causes her child to die. This is unacceptable! Countries have agreed on measures at the global level. It is time to translate them into tangible action.”
According to the world health body, about 100,000 deaths a year in Africa are linked to the counterfeit drug trade. The British think-tank, International Policy Network, estimates that globally, 700,000 deaths a year are caused by fake malaria and tuberculosis drugs—comparing the death toll to the equivalent of “four fully laden jumbo jets crashing every day.”
Roger Bate, an economist specialising in international health policies, believes that substandard drugs—the result of poor manufacturing or “deliberate corner- cutting”—are a much bigger health problem than fake medicines.
“Off-theshelf drugs made by Chinese and to a lesser extent, Indian manufacturers tend to perform inconsistently on quality tests,” he claims in an article for the US-based think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Bate also blames “bad” drugs for the rise in drug-resistant strains of diseases like tuberculosis.
For his most recent study, published in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, over 700 samples of two main firstline anti-tuberculosis medicines were picked randomly for testing from private sector pharmacies. The study found that overall, 9.1% of sample drugs worldwide tested failed basic quality control tests.
The failure rate in Africa was 16.6%, about one in every six pills. Meanwhile, Ashifi Gogo, the Chief Executive Officer of Sproxil, a brand protection company for emerging markets, argues that “it isn’t just a problem of counterfeit medicines produced in the East and shipped over to Africa.”
Speaking to AllAfrica.com, a news portal, he suggested that the rise of African manufacturers is also contributing to the problem of substandard medicines in the markets.