23 Feb 2001
The general malaise that is gripping the social fabric of many an African state has not spared the health sector. Of all the known ills that afflict this sector, one of the most outstanding is the circulation of fake and adulterated medicines. All the good laws that have been put in place to protect citizens from quacks are not functional thanks to greed and corruption. In many countries medicaments have become a common commodity that is sold by street hawkers.
Generally the word ‘fake’ used in this article refers to those medications that are not in conformity with their label claim. For example, a container may be labelled ‘Amoxicilline 500mg capsules’ when in effect the capsules contain say 100mg of Amoxicilline or no Amoxicilline at all. These are the type of fake medications that are responsible for enormous suffering and loss of life. This problem has existed for a long time but it has blossomed into an uncontrollable monster following the downward slide of many African economies. As many Africans were reduced to a state of penury, it became harder for them to afford for genuine medications. It was at this juncture that international crime syndicates took advantage of the economic powerlessness of theses people to flood the continent with fake medicines. The result has been a major disaster that the public is neither aware of let alone capable of estimating the cost in terms of human lives maimed or lost.
It is common to see even staff (esp. nurses) of state medical institutions with bags stuffed with medicines bought from the street corner on their way to work. Unfortunate patients are usually coerced to purchase these doubtful substances when they come for consultation. The money usually enters the nurse’s pocket to augment the paltry salary they receive from the state. The authenticity of the medication given the patient is not of any concern to the giver. Some people, after obtaining their prescriptions from the doctor, head for the street or market instead of going to the pharmacy. Sometimes the doctor gets confused when the patient returns days later to report that the health condition is deteriorating notwithstanding the medicines already taken. Some doctors have been known to change the diagnosis that was initially correct because they are unaware that it is fake medicines that is responsible for therapeutic failure. It is quite frustrating for our doctors who are working in an environment with limited diagnostic tools as they tend to rely more on symptoms for their diagnosis.
If you make a study you will realise that there is an increase in diseases associated with internal organs that are implicated in drug metabolism such as liver and kidneys. This is because Africans are gulping many unknown chemicals in the name of medicines. Fake drugs certainly are contributing an invisible role in the incidence of high death rate. .
Copyright ã Feb. 2001 by Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah