Why Are Pharmaceutical Companies Feeding Africa with Substandard Drugs?

Fredrick Ngugi November 30, 2017
WHO says Africans are being supplied with substandard pharmaceutical drugs. Photo credit: Daily Maverick

Most pharmaceutical drugs in Africa and other developing countries are substandard. This is according to a recent research done by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The organization says most of these drugs are counterfeits, of poor quality, hazardous and ineffective, putting the lives of patients at great risk. In September, WHO issued an alert about a falsified drug circulating in the streets of Cameroon.

In the alert, the organization said it had identified a product labeled as Pencillin-V Tablets, a common drug used to treat special bacterial infections, being hawked at a market in southwestern Cameroon.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the product’s manufacturer does not exist in Belgium as indicated on the label, which contains glaring spelling mistakes and inaccuracies in the composition and strength of the product.

Further laboratory tests indicated that the tablets do not contain any amount of penicillin V but instead have 50 mg of paracetamol. While the paracetamol content in the tablets is strong enough to suppress a fever, it cannot cure any bacterial infection.

“This may deceive patients and healthcare professionals into believing that this product is effective and delay the seeking of an appropriate treatment for the infection,” WHO reports.

Unchecked Drug Supply Chain

The global health organization cites the complex nature of the advancing global manufacturing and distribution system as the main reason for the increasing number of counterfeit and substandard drugs in the market.

“That complexity heightens the risk that production errors will occur, or that medicines will degrade between factory and consumer,” WHO says.

There is also the challenge of the growing demand for medicines, vaccines and other medical products across the world, as well as poor management of the drug supply chain and the rise of e-commerce. All these factors have made it easier for counterfeit drugs to enter the supply chain, WHO argues.

The organization conducts regular investigations on medical products entering the market to ensure they are of the right standards and are safe for use by consumers. It also issues regular alerts about fake drugs and other medical products in the market.

The main objective of these alerts is to provide consumers and medical professionals with timely, impartial, accurate and reliable information about medical products that pose a significant threat to global public health.

WHO also reports that at least 11 percent of pharmaceutical drugs in Africa and other developing nations are fake. These counterfeits continue to kill tens of thousands of children on the continent from curable diseases such as malaria and pneumonia every year.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: June 19, 2018


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