The question that troubled many during a recent seminar organised by the Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA) was whether the country has given enough attention to the fight against sub-standard and fake drugs, cosmetics and food in the country.
This is especially after comparing the currently available human and technical resources against the task itself.
The gap between resources and the assignment is huge by any standards. Surrounded by eight countries and a long coastline, one needs a strong contingent of a highly technically equipped force to ensure that no counterfeits find their way into the country, which TFDA is yet to get.
What’s more, one needs an equally strong internal force to fight internally manufactured counterfeits and sub standard stuff. The authority does not have the manpower and equipment.
Yet there are quite a number of concoctions being touted as cures for various serious illnesses such as HIV/Aids, diabetes, cancer, allergies, sexual dysfunction, to name but a few of the more often referred to ailments. There are people pushing foods they ascribe suspect qualities to. All these have to be verified, before being released to the public.
Those who travel on upcountry buses will no doubt have been treated to such sales campaigns by men and women who promote stuff they claim can cure various illnesses.
Sadly many a desperate ordinary traveler is duped into buying the stuff, without recourse to professional advice, unknowingly putting their lives at great risk.
There are the sprouting unregistered clinics, offering health services at exorbitant fees and the roadside ‘pharmacies’, selling concoctions, where TFDA says it could do more if it had the resources.
Health and Social Welfare deputy minister Dr Lucy Nkya warned just days ago that the increase in diabetes and other lifestyle ailments in part attributed to fake drugs, cosmetics and food were also noticeable in the younger population. She specifically cited the rise in the number of children suffering from blood pressure complications and diabetes.
That is how serious the problems are. Something must be done, and urgently for that matter, to arrest the situation.
Besides seizing and destroying counterfeits and penalising culprits, TFDA must be enabled to launch a sustained education campaign to sensitise people against falling prey to drugs or treatments which could damage their health or even kill them.
It must be equipped to deal with those dealing in counterfeits, who are daily perfecting their evil work and making it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between genuine and fake products. It needs an enlightened customer, and therefore a conscious public, to check out authenticity before purchase.
TFDA also needs a solid base to successfully carry out surveillance, arrests and prosecution of those making and selling counterfeit stuff. Sadly, the agency says it has not made much headway in this area because of the lack of investigation and prosecution capabilities.
We also urge the government to revisit the penalties against those found guilty of engaging in the counterfeit business. We know those forcing counterfeit products on people make huge profits, so the government must place a high penalty on such offences.
We should not in any way condone practices that put our lives in danger.