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Is Tanzania dumping ground for all sorts of medicines?

Discussion in 'JF Doctor' started by BAK, Apr 2, 2009.

  1. BAK

    BAK JF-Expert Member

    Apr 2, 2009
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    Is Tanzania dumping ground for all sorts of medicines?

    Makwaia wa KUHENGA, 2nd April 2009 @ 09:08


    According to press reports this week, the international police organisation (INTERPOL) has stepped in to join into investigations on business people alleged to have imported into the country ineffective 'metakelfin' malaria drugs.

    Already five persons have been arrested in the wake of a swoop by state agencies on a chain of shops in Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Mbeya, Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions in connection with the presence of contraband drugs of the said anti-malaria drug. Against the background of this news are the realities on the ground in Tanzania in so far as the importation, efficacy and price tags of drugs in this country are concerned.

    It is both a reality that it is very, very expensive to be taken ill in Tanzania. It would seem, from a cursory glance at the ways things are going on in the health sector in this country, the health of the people of this country is in the hands of the highest bidder for one thing and that Tanzanians have been converted into a huge lab for testing of all sorts of drugs!

    The result has been a catastrophe. The market has been saturated by hitherto unknown drugs especially for the cure of a common ailment here, malaria. So we have had metakelfin, arinate, co-arinate, halfan and a number of others which have now escaped my memory.

    The other day, I myself became a victim of one drug called 'co-arinate'. Oh! My God! I thought it would be my last night that day soon after I had swallowed the doze as per prescription. I felt a violent cold (in the midst of a humid Dar es Salaam!). Eh! Bwana! I called my doctor as I worried - not knowing where that violent cold had come from - which had before never occurred to me whenever I had a malaria bout.

    "Take as much water as possible to neutralise the poisonous effect of the drug which it would appear has rejected your body," told me my good friend and Doctor, Asajile Mwakasole. Which I did feeling my 'surprised' tummy that night. The effect was not through with me as yet; not until I had unexplained rashes onto my private parts, and the tummy which looked like bonfire burns!

    After this episode, I have since been thinking. Had this scenario repeated itself on unsuspecting peasant in a village - in the many villages upcountry where 80 per cent of our people live - who, unlike me, have no medical doctor friend to fall back to, what would have happened to him? Death, isn't it?

    Now the price tags. The price tags for these new comer drugs in the market have been and are very expensive. They range from ten thousands Tanzanian shillings (about ten dollars) to twelve thousand shillings - with most pharmacy shops settling for the latter tag. The facts are for a peasant to cough two hundred shillings is a fortune, this is what most people know. What about five or ten thousand quid?

    Before the arrival of these 'new' anti-malaria drugs, people in this country were used and accustomed to chloroquine tablets/injections or quinine. These tablets/injections were applied on malaria patients interchangeably for decades until the advent of the free market economic system in the nineties. That is where problems began!

    Suddenly, these drugs were unceremoniously removed from the market and 'new' ones - God know from where - were introduced to catastrophic results as we have seen. Now we have even thugs who are playing with the health of the people - introducing contra-band drugs such as metakelfin.

    Clearly, this is a serious development which no government can take lightly. People are being turned into 'pigeon pigs' to test medicines, real or fictitious! Besides, there is the question of affordability for the majority of the people, whose purchasing power is very weak. This is where all governments, whatever their political colouring meet. It is the meeting of the basic needs of people everywhere: in food, health, education and shelter.

    For a government led by the principles of free marketing, the primary and fundamental role is a regulatory framework and a strong one for that matter to be put in place. In Tanzania, we have the Tanzania Pharmaceutical Board. I do not know whether we have another one - and if there is another - it is the merrier. But how effective are these state regulatory agencies?

    I personally think they are not effective. To cut the long story short, the state needs to have a fundamental rethink of policy in so far as meeting the basic needs of the people are concerned; in health for one. In the past, we used to have a state-run pharmaceutical company with the role of importing drugs and distributing them. Why not revive that one or form a new one to compete with private hands in this business?

    This way, the government will know where to start and who to take accountable for one thing and then it will be in position to cushion off the exorbitant prices that go with human drugs in this country. Otherwise, I am afraid, we will have more contraband drugs in this country from all sorts of places and the prices tagged in an equally intimidating but silly manner: "Do you want metakelfin from India or Italy?" Hahahahaha!

    Makwaia wa KUHENGA is a Senior Journalist & Author.