Fight The Fakes

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The danger of fake medicines cannot be overemphasized

Abraham Dzidonu |

The danger of fake medicines cannot be overemphasized

My name is Abraham Dzidonu and I was born in Ghana. I studied Chemistry at the University of Ghana and Pharmacy in Mainz, Germany, and later worked with Alliance Boots Pharmacy, UK. Since 2007, I have been Team Leader responsible for Quality Assurance at the Doc-Morris Mail Order Pharmacy in the Netherlands.

In 2008 I joined Pharmacists without Borders in Germany (Apotheker ohne Grenzen eV Germany,  AOG) where I now serve on the Executive Board. Among our activities, our group aims to combat counterfeit medicines in line with the regulations of the World Health Organization (WHO)-supported group IMPACT.

Though this a global crisis, only a few are well informed about the existence of fake medicines. The statistics are alarming. The British think-tank, International Policy Network, estimates that globally, 700,000 deaths a year are caused by fake malaria and tuberculosis drugs alone. According to WHO, up to 10 % medicines in the world are fake; in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 30 % can be fake.

These facts gave me a vivid recollection of what I observed in my youth.

  • During my National Service in a Clinic, an employee deliberately diluted a 5-Liter canister of cough mixture to 10 Liters before selling it to the public, enabling him make more profit…
  • A helpless mother in our compound lost her two-and-a-half year old daughter, despite giving her an antimalarial medicine she bought the week before at the market…
  • Those colleagues of mine who never were successful in getting rid of this killer disease, although they took their full antimalarial courses with the due compliance. They seemed to have been cured, but the symptoms reappeared within short period again and again…

These memories prompted me to start my project.  In cooperation with my employer, Doc-Morris, I was able to gain the support of a number of colleagues for an AOG project on fake medicines.

The danger of taking in fake medicines cannot be overemphasized. Fake medicines have become an important source of income for organized crime groups, with extremely high returns, claiming lots of lives. Fake medicines which contain no active ingredient can lead to deaths, but they can also contain dangerous ingredients. 84 children died in Nigeria in 2009, as a result of taking “My Pikin Baby Teeth Tincture”, a syrup for teething pain.

Fake medicines which contain the wrong dosage of active ingredients can result in drug resistance. This is a problem for common infectious diseases like malaria.

My project, Counterfeits Medicines with focus on fake antimalarials in Ghana, aims to raise public awareness of fake medicines and educate them on myths and facts. We also will provide technical support detecting and analyzing suspicious medicines by closely working with our local partners and with the help of a Minilab donated by Doc-Morris. I hope to contribute to helping Ghanaian patients to protect themselves against the dangers of using fake medicines.

As the old adage says “prevention is better than cure”.  We must also look at the possibilities of preventing malaria by avoiding being bitten by mosquitos- with the free mass distribution of long-lasting insecticidal nets and avoiding stagnant water. These simple actions can help in reducing the rate at which desperate patients fall prey to fake drug dealers. Efforts of governments and international organizations to bring about a malaria free world in many countries attacks the disease at the very roots.

Governments must also ensure adequate drug regulatory systems in their countries. The unlicensed drug vendors (street, kiosk or open-market sellers) can pose a problem when it comes to fake medicines. Where possible, we should look to train, license and regulate illegal drug vendors rather than shut them down.

As a child, I suffered from malaria a number of times. I survived, but many others do not. To fight the fakes is a big task, but we can win if we work together. Everyone has a role to play.


More on Pharmacists without Borders here.

More on fake medicines and malaria here.

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