Are cheap medicines harmful to population health? Like thrift stores, flea markets and fast food restaurants, cheap medicines pose a potential health risk to communities. In Africa, the word cheap is synonymous with counterfeit medicines. Cheap medicines are commonly sold on the streets where traders in counterfeit drugs have thriving businesses, sometimes at the cost of human lives. The concern for counterfeit drugs is crucial because these trades target Africa’s poor. If safe medicines are not accessible and cost effective, poor people are at risk of obtaining counterfeit drugs. According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), counterfeit drugs are a multi-billion dollar business accounting for 30 percent of the pharmaceutical market in parts of Africa. When we imagine the market saturation of counterfeit anti-malarial drugs, painkillers and antibiotics, it is not difficult to fathom the rampant growth of these businesses. Below is a summary of the counterfeit drugs landscape in Africa:
•Fraudulent medicines have become an increasingly lucrative area for organized criminal networks, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.
•In Kenya, 30 percent of drugs sold in 2012 were either fake or counterfeit, according to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Kenya.
•Between 20 and 25 percent of the drug market in Ivory Coast are fake drugs, according to Parfait Kouassi, chair of the National Order of Pharmacists in Ivory Coast from 2005 to 2012.
•In Nigeria, phony drugs and real ones that had passed their expiry date made up 70 percent of sales in 2002, according to the World Health Organization.
•Nigeria imports more than 50 percent of fake drugs from China and India, according to Abubakar Jimoh, spokesman of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)
•South Africa has a strictly enforced licensing system to fight the illicit drug trade, according to Griffith Molewa, head of law enforcement at the Medicines Control Council.
While these counterfeit drugs may seem to work at first, they ultimately cause serious complications that may not be reversible. African countries like Nigeria and South Africa should continue to fight the illicit drug trade in addition to keeping drugs accessible and cost-effective. The video below highlights the fight against counterfeits drugs in Nigeria.