A new policy brief titled “The Rise of Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals in Africa”, has been launched in Accra with a focus on its implications for Ghana and West Africa.
The brief, embodies key findings and recommendations of a study conducted by Enhancing Africa’s response to transnational organised crime (ENACT), one of the European Union (EU) funded projects under its Pan-African Programme support agenda.
Mr Eric Pelser, the ENACT Programme Head of the Institute for Security Studies, at the opening ceremony on Tuesday, said the proliferation of counterfeit medicines in Africa, is becoming a challenge to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3).
This also places significant emphasis on populations’ health, with its sub-target 3.8, specifying access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
“Yet remarkably missing from the discourse around achieving this goal is the need to address the growing phenomenon of counterfeit medicines, which disproportionately affects developing countries,” he said.
Mr Pelser said counterfeit medicines put people’s life at risk, finance criminal groups and caused profound public health challenges, yet the full scale of the challenge in Africa was not fully understood, but research suggests that the problem and its impact are severe.
He said the growing incidence of the so-called falsified and substandard medical products, was arguably the most insidious and evil form of illegal trade which leads to widespread loss of lives, accounting for between 64,000 and 158,000 otherwise avoidable deaths annually from malaria alone in sub-Saharan Africa.
Although the phenomenon is not specific to Africa, counterfeiters preyed on poor countries more than their richer counterparts with up to 30 times greater penetration of fakes in the supply chain compared to the one per cent in the developed world, he said.
Mr Pelser said to make headway in achieving the SDG 3, the issue of counterfeit medicines must be moved higher up on policy agenda, saying evidence elsewhere have suggested that there would be scope for significant positive results.
He said addressing the problem in Africa, may help prevent widespread loss of life, and mitigate other public health and safety risks, and that African States must prioritise the issues, and responses should include a substantial overhaul of the analytical, legal, educational, regulatory and enforcement systems around the medical supply chains, to help strengthen the mechanisms for combating medicine fraud.
These responses, he said, would need to be coordinated within a global effort, including setting up a database of intelligence on counterfeits, and improved awareness-raising campaigns, and recommended that national medicines regulatory authorities be tasked to regularly investigate mass serialisation forms of track-and-trace.
Mr Pelser said the increasing trend of these illicit trading, therefore showed that counterfeiters found Africa an easier target because it has not developed the West’s armoury of responses to these fake drugs, citing the Europe and USA’s enviable supply chain regulation, track-and-trace technology and enforcement regimes, as a defences that were wholly lacking in African countries.
The paper, he said, sets out the scale and effects of the problem and recommends a comprehensive programme to awareness creation, as well as measurement, legal, supply chain and enforcement activities, to begin the enormous task of reducing counterfeits in Africa.
Mrs Martha Gyansa-Ludtterodt, the Director of Pharmaceutical Services at the Ministry of Health, and also Chief Pharmacist, urged all stakeholders to form a united front to fight against the proliferation of these counterfeit pharmaceuticals on the Ghanaian market.
She said the presence of these illicit medications has become a huge setback to the country’s achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), saying fake drugs including anti-malarials, dewormers, pain killers, Tramadol, codeine and aphrodisiac drugs brought into the country by unknown persons, have and continue to be seized by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), however, such sporadic seizers would not solve the huge problem of the illicit trading unless stakeholders joined forces to fight the menace.
She said the capacities of mandated institutions must be strengthened to make them more proactive, ensure the harmonisation of policies and standards of pharmaceuticals and the enhancement of intelligence sharing as strategies to arrest importers of these counterfeit drugs and trace their source of supplies and manufacturing.
Ghana, she said, is currently re-engineering her supply chain mechanism to make it responsive to current challenges both at the national, regional and global level, citing the Executive Instruments, the Act 167 which banned the importation and use of all Codeine content in cough syrups, and the Act 168 criminalising the use of Tramadol drug with active ingredients higher than 50 to 100 milligrams, saying these medicines must be obtained strictly with prescriptions only.
Brigadier General Robert Affram, the Director of Training at the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Centre, added his voice to the dramatic shifts in the conversion around Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) in Africa, but added that while the continent has enjoyed increasing stability and rising economic indices, these have also facilitated cross-border criminal activity across the continent.
He said the unprecedented openness in trade, finance, travel and communication has also given rise to enormous opportunities for criminals, highlighting also on the treat such activities pose to governance, peace and development in both developed and developing nations.
Mr Sotirios Bazikanwe, the Governance Advisor to the EU delegation to Ghana, said the Union places security in Africa at the forefront of its international agenda, notably through its Pan-African Programme, which is the first of its kind to centre on development and cooperation, and covering Africa as a whole, hence its support through the three-year ENACT programme.
He called on all partners to accept the recommendations of the study to help the fight to eliminate counterfeit pharmaceuticals, maintain quality health of Africans and reduce the high rate of preventable deaths.