Africa needs more tools to fight falsified medicines

Africa is an easy target for medicine counterfeiters because most countries haven’t developed the “armoury of responses” used in other parts of the world, says a new report.

The document prepared by the EU-funded ENACT Africa project notes that while other countries have developed “supply chain regulation, track-and-trace technology and enforcement regimes” to tackle the falsified medicines trade, African nations have lagged behind.

It also notes that corruption is adding “another layer of complexity” to the problem as in many cases “public officials are bypassed as the counterfeits reach retailers unhindered.”

Eric Pelser, ENACT programme head at the Institute for Security Studies, said that while there has been “some policy reflection, the links between corruption and healthcare require closer examination.”

The report – which was published towards the end of last year but officially launched this month at a series of regional seminars in Ghana and Nigeria – says substandard and fake medicines “contribute to the global threat of drug-resistant illness and undermine Africa’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

“They often have a tragic impact on individuals in need of effective antimalarials, antibiotics and other medicines,” it adds.

While the domestic pharmaceutical industry is growing in Africa, currently only 37 out of 54 African states have some level of pharmaceutical production, which means a high level of reliance on imported drugs. That’s another big problem, given that Nigeria’s regulator NAFDAC thinks that imports account for 75 per cent of the counterfeit problem.

Like Nigeria, other African nations should enact legislation that criminalises the manufacture and sale of counterfeits. Legislation should also provide clear authority and responsibility for the investigation, detection and seizure of counterfeit products.

Furthermore, given their ability to authenticate drugs in the supply chain, track-and-trace systems of the type officially sanctioned and used in EU and US have shown great potential to thwart the penetration of counterfeits, says ENACT.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, 42 per cent of detected cases of substandard or falsified pharmaceuticals occurred in Africa, while the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has estimated that fake malaria drugs alone cause up to 158,000 deaths every year in sub-Saharan countries.

“We are still in the foothills of combatting falsified medical products in Africa,” concludes the report. “In the past 10 years, Western regulatory, technology and measurement systems have successfully adapted to the threat of counterfeit medicines. African national medicines regulatory authorities, in co-operation with each other, must complement international efforts with local enforcement, monitoring and reporting.”

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