Health leaders meet over fake drugs crisis

18Jan 2020
The Guardian
Health leaders meet over fake drugs crisis

HEALTH leaders from seven African countries met in Togo's capital Lomé yesterday and signed an agreement criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.

Tens of thousands of people in Africa die each year because of fake and counterfeit medication.

The representatives from Congo-Brazzaville, The Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda are hoping that laws specifically targeting fake medications will do the trick.

Health activist Denis Bukenya from the Human Rights Research Documentation Centre in Uganda told BBC Newsday that existing laws could already be used to charge people importing fake drugs, but the penalties were too small to be a deterrent to criminals.

The proliferation of fake medicines in Africa is a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored, according to a UK charity.

The Brazzaville Foundation is organising a meeting of seven African countries, in Togo, this week, to combat the problem.

Congo, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Uganda, Ghana and The Gambia will discuss measures to clamp down on trafficking in fake medicines.

But how big a problem is counterfeit medicine in Africa, and what impact does it have?

How many counterfeit drugs are there?

Globally, the trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals is worth up to $200bn (£150bn) annually, with Africa among the regions most affected, according to industry estimates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says 42% of all fake medicines reported to them between 2013 and 2017 were from Africa.

The European region and the Americas (North and South) accounted for 21% each.

But how reliable are these figures?

The WHO has a reporting mechanism that relies on national or regional regulatory authorities around the world to notify it of seizures. So the data for 2013-17 is only as good as the surveillance and reporting systems in the countries or regions concerned.