Nairobi — GlaxoSmithKline East Africa last week denied allegations that some batches of its leading painkiller, Panadol, were substandard as cut-throat competition for Kenya's $28 million over-the-counter painkillers market threatened to turn nasty.
GSK is the leading pharmaceutical company in Kenya, and the Panadol brand is estimated to command over half the over-the-counter painkiller market.
Last week, the company dismissed reports being chain-mailed on the Internet and mobile phones that batch number 050292 of the Panadol Extra were poorly-formulated, terming them "unfounded and erroneous."
"As a global pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline manufactures and distributes Panadol under stringent safety and quality standards," Dr William Mwatu, the medical and regulatory affairs director at GSK told The EastAfrican.
"GSK stands by Panadol as a trusted brand that has an excellent safety profile, based on a long history of use by millions of consumers for over 50 years," he added.
According to Dr Mwatu, the batch in question was specifically supplied to the Middle East but not to any countries in East Africa. Samples from the batch had also been retested in independent as well as GSK's laboratories following the allegations and found to be of the desired quality, Dr Mwatu added.
Last Thursday, the Kenyan Ministry of Health's Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) also weighed in through paid-for newspaper advertisements, echoing GSK's line that the stated batch number had not been supplied to East Africa. The PPB is the regulatory body charged with overseeing the registration and marketing of medicines in the country.
But the board's request in the advertisements that "anybody who receives this erroneous e-mail should not circulate or forward it to their friends and relatives" evoked strong reactions from sections of the local pharmaceutical industry, with critics questioning why the statutory body was making statements with marketing undertones for GSK.
"The Board should at all at times endeavour to project a neutral and professional outlook," the representative of a local manufacturing firm said on condition of anonymity. "Statements from the board should not be seen to endorse any brand, but should strictly serve the purpose of educating the public."
Pharmaceutical analysts say that the Panadol saga is a pointer to the growing competition in the local painkiller market following the entry of generic makers, both Kenyan and foreign.
"It is not farfetched that some players are resorting to dirty tricks to try to raise their market share, or establish a niche in the market," Dr Kamamia Murichu, chairman of the Kenya Pharmaceutical Distributors Association, told The EastAfrican. "The challenge for the pharmacy board is to ensure that these tricks do not have an impact on the quality of painkillers available in the market."
In Kenya, the biggest play- ers in the sector are GSK, which markets the Panadol and Hedex brands, Beta Healthcare, who own the Action and Mara Moja brands, Universal Pharmacy and their Neradol brand and the resurgent Dawa Pharmaceuticals, who own Dawanol.
Dozens of smaller firms as well as independent importers and distributors also have over-the-counter painkiller lines, mostly made up of unbranded aspirin or paracetamol formulations.