- Feb 11, 2007
|Fake drugs nightmare|
|Saturday, 08 October 2011 22:47|
By Songa wa Songa
The Citizen Correspondent
Dar es Salaam.
Authorities have voiced their concern over the entry into the pharmaceutical industry of unscrupulous individuals who are flooding the local market with fake drugs worth billions of shillings.The Pharmacy Council Registrar, Ms Mildred Kinyawa, has told The Citizen on Sunday how the crooks, sometimes with the help of medical professionals, endanger the lives of members of the public through the sale of fake medicines.
We have permitted heartless businesspeople to hijack this industry with potentially dire consequences we must act fast to stamp out these networks, Ms Kinyawa said in an exclusive interview with this paper this week. She cautioned that fake medicine could lead to serious harm and possibly death.
According to Ms Kinyawa, the mushrooming of drug sale outlets across the country showed how deep the problem could be. She said many of the shops that act as conduits could not pass rigorous standards for establishment of pharmacies or chemists.
And the problem appears to be regional, with an apparent network of the immoral profiteers spreading its tentacles to Kenya and Uganda. Early in the week, the Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (Kapi) chairman, Mr Moses Mwangi, said the cartel previously targeted popular original medicine.
Mr Mwangi said the situation was becoming more lucrative for the fraudsters as demand for expensive medicine to treat an increasing caseload of non-communicable diseases grows.The Kenyan official said fake drug dealers were also cashing in on the rush for cheaper versions of expensive medicines for cases of diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
According to Kenyas Quality Control Laboratories and Pharmacy and Poisons Board, about 30 per cent of drugs in the country alone were fake, with a black market value of KSh13 billion (Sh234bn).
In Tanzania, while statistics on the black markets worth are rare, the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) has admitted that the racketeers could be walking away with billions of shillings at the expense the publics wellbeing.
A week ago, the TFDA impounded some of the suspect drugs in a sting operation.
However, such sporadic raids have not deterred dealers, and authorities would need to do extra homework to win the war.Just as in neighbouring countries, the TFDA has confirmed that some drugs on sale were merely chalk or water.
The matter is compounded by the fact that it has been hard for many people to identify fake medicine. While most of the counterfeits were imported, some were being altered locally in ordinary households, small cottage industries and even backyards, officials said.
Ms Kinyawa said it would be helpful and less risky if people bought drugs only from registered outlets.
But she admitted that because of the critical shortage of qualified pharmacists, quacks have stepped in to fill the void and were offering fertile grounds for the fraudsters.
We must confess our guilt because, the shortage of manpower notwithstanding, pharmaceutical professionals cannot escape the blame over collusion, she said. She noted that it was not uncommon to find their certificates used by businessmen to open pharmacies and chemist shops.The registrar said Tanzania has only 861 pharmacists instead of 15,000 recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). There are also 530 Pharmaceutical Technicians, instead of 4,000 and 386 Pharmaceutical Assistants instead of 6,000.
The chief medical officer, Dr Deo Mutasiwa, said the health sector needed about 144,704 members of staff, but right now they were 58,297 only, about 40.3 per cent of the total demand.During a recent sensitisation meeting for the new Pharmacy Act 2011 in Dar es Salaam, players in the industry observed that most pharmacies and medical stores were manned by untrained or unqualified personnel.
Cases were detailed of how school leavers, and even housemaids, were found selling drugs.
Ms Kinyawa said the Council hoped to capitalise on the new law, which became effective on October 1 and the Pharmacy Regulations of 2009, to crack down on the culprits.
Punishments will include deregistration of members, but the Council will also step up sensitisation campaigns for members as well as the public to instill the culture of viewing the industry with the sensitivity it required.
In some cases a patient will only need the right consultation from a professional; but instead of advising someone to drink more water, for instance, a quack will forcibly sell a tablet, she said.
The official said the agency was working to raise the status of practitioners as one way of instilling professionalism.
She said issues, such as retention due to poor salaries and lack of housing, had seen far-flung districts remain without a single qualified pharmacist. The neglect of the discipline, Ms Kinyawa said, has resulted in many a professional preferring other careers to pharmacy. Likewise, the few who serve get tempted to moonlight in other businesses.
The council registrar said apart from monitoring and taking legal action against unethical practitioners, the best way to arrest the situation was for the pharmacy personnel to voluntarily make it their business to redeem the lost glory of their profession by adhering to professionalism to the letter.
She added that since the council has no capacity to police every corner of the country to enforce ethical conduct, wananchi have a bigger role to play in safeguarding their own health.