Counterfeit medicines posing serious risks to Kenyans

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Kenya faces serious problems linked to the importation, marketing and consumption of fake medicine.

A survey conducted by the National Quality Control Laboratories (NQCL) and Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) found that about 12 percent of medicines in the Kenyan market were fake.

Research conducted by independent organizations, the Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (KAPI) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK) on its part found that 30 percent of all medicines in the market are counterfeits with a black market value of Ksh. 13 billion.

Cartels in this business are said to be targeting popular pain killers such as panadol, asprin, hedex, sonadol as well as other painkillers and medicine that control high blood pressure that are on high demand due to the surge of high blood pressure in the country.

“The situation is becoming more lucrative for the fraudsters as more Kenyans require expensive medicines to treat an increasing caseload of non- communicable diseases”, Vinod Guptan an official of KAPI.

Guptan observed that unless measures are put in place and enforced, the business of counterfeiting will thrive, thus endangering the lives of innocent buyers.

There are fears that some of the drugs on sales were no more than just chalk or water.

“Fake medicines can cause serious harm or even death,” warns Dr. Rupen Haria the Managing Director of Harleys Limited.

Dr. Haria, who is an importer and distributor of pharmaceutical and surgical products, says it was hard to identify fake medicine but it would be less risky if people buy medicines only from registered outlets.

While most of the counterfeits are imported, some are being altered locally in ordinary house-holds, small cottage industries and even backyards.

Dr. Haria says the anti- counterfeit law has to be strictly enforced and more resources allocated for post-market surveillance and regular testing of drugs to avoid the dangers posed by counterfeits and losses the business community in the health industry incur and taxes lost by the Government.

The Anti-Counterfeit Act, which came into force in 2009, has been criticized as too lenient on offenders to be a deterrent. The Act prescribes five years imprisonment for first offenders and a fine equal to three times the value of the fake goods.

A former chairman of the KAPI, Dr. Moses Mwangi, says the penalties are not punitive enough for “these merchants of death.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers estimates that private sector loses Ksh 50 billion annually in sales revenue while the Government loses Ksh. 19 billion annually due to counterfeiting.

At the international level, researchers from the University of Ottawa and American Enterprise Institute want a law enacted to make counterfeiting of medicines a crime against humanity under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

In the ICC statute, there are various crimes against humanity, which by their nature are committed by private criminal organizations and not by states, the researchers say.

Prof. Joseph Drawley from the Ottawa University says those counterfeiting in medicines are merchants of death and should therefore be charged for crime against humanity.

It is believed the medicines are being produced by criminals cashing in on the rush for cheaper versions of expensive medicines for cases of non- communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

The consumption of counterfeits has led to serious drug resistance for some of the most serious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, meningitis pneumonia among others.

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