Africa must step up fighting the spread of fake drugs

25Nov 2020
The Guardian
Africa must step up fighting the spread of fake drugs

As a recent study from the World Health Organisation pointed out, the so-called ‘fake drugs’ come in a variety of forms. There are the substandard drugs, which perhaps wouldn't pass quality tests due to a manufacturing error or because they have already passed their expiry date.

The second kind, known as counterfeit drugs, have been deliberately falsified. This means that they could contain entirely different chemicals than the original or might even have no medical properties at all.

The result of taking fake drugs, therefore, can have a wide variety of effects. The latest studies show that substandard and counterfeit anti-malarial drugs contributed to an additional 72,000 to 267,000 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa annually. Fake malaria prophylaxes may fail to protect the person from malaria; fake malaria treatment may fail to help a sick person effectively; additionally, both of these drugs may give the parasite the chance to become resistant to the medicine used. Moreover, the more people infected with malaria, the easier it is for the mosquitoes to carry the parasites from person to person, thus spreading the disease.

They can cause death, have unknown side-effects, fail to treat illnesses and sometimes even add to the spread of disease. Now, the battle to eliminate fake pharmaceutical products is being stepped up.

A drug test is a technical analysis of a biological specimen, for example urine, hair, blood, breath, sweat, and/or oral fluid/saliva to determine the presence or absence of specified parent drugs or their metabolites. Major applications of drug testing include detection of the presence of performance enhancing steroids in sport, employers and parole/probation officers screening for drugs prohibited by law (such as cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin) and police officers testing for the presence and concentration of alcohol (ethanol) in the blood commonly referred to as BAC (blood alcohol content). BAC tests are typically administered via a breathalyzer while urinalysis is used for the vast majority of drug testing in sports and the workplace. Numerous other methods with varying degrees of accuracy, sensitivity (detection threshold/cutoff), and detection periods exist.

A drug test may also refer to a test that provides quantitative chemical analysis of an illegal drug, typically intended to help with responsible drug use

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation have joined a continental campaign to end antimicrobial resistance in Africa. The campaign, led by six entities, comes as cases of drug-resistant HIV, TB and malaria rise across the continent. The campaign was launched during the World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) Campaign for Africa. It calls antimicrobial resistance the “silent public health threat" in all countries in Africa.

Antimicrobials include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiparasitics and are used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants. In Africa, research findings estimate that 4.1 million people could die of failing drug treatments by 2050 unless urgent action is taken. Malaria, which kills 3,000 children in Africa every day, is increasingly showing resistance to once-effective treatment options.

Tuberculosis is also becoming resistant to the drugs typically used to treat it. Current studies indicate that drug resistance to HIV is increasing and could cause 890,000 deaths by 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa.The others are the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the African Union, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

An estimated one in 10 medicines globally is substandard or falsified, and the African region is one of the most affected in the world. Without proper medical supervision, people often stop their drug course too soon or they double-dose rather than keep to a prescribed strict time interval for appropriate drug-taking.This improper use of antimicrobial medicines enables bacteria, viruses, fungi and microscopic parasites to mutate into superbugs that are resistant to the drugs designed to kill them