Arusha Times (Arusha)

East Africa: EA Whispers

Need for regional fight against fake drugs:

EANA --Recent media reports on the existence and circulation of fake antiretroviral drugs in Tanzania once again brought to the fore the ever pertinent question about patient rights and treatment for ailments that the public in general have very little knowledge about except total dependence on what the authorities decide and do.

It is unfortunate that a number of HIV/Aids patients were taking what they considered to be medication that restrained the growth and reproduction of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in their bodies whereas in actual fact they were only given what amounted to placebos!

The story about fake ARVs is only a small part of the general predicament about the efficacy of drugs in East Africa. HIV/Aids could be the more feared condition but malaria by far remains the region's major killer disease. Once cheaply and effectively treated with the use of chloroquine, it is no longer easy these days for patients to know the drug of first line of choice against the disease as most medicines simply do not seem to work.

With the increased mobility of goods and services across the region, fake drugs are no longer a problem for just one country. Nothing can be more frustrating than to fall sick away from home and not be sure about the effective management of the condition simply because even government hospitals also dispense fake drugs.

If East Africa wants indeed to evolve "people-centred" integration, the region cannot afford to neglect the adoption of policies and measures that guarantee East Africans minimum standards for accessing quality and affordable medical services, at least by way of starting with effective drugs.

The region already uses quite a number of drugs manufactured locally and could, according to the Common Market Protocol, enter other countries on preferential terms only to realize later that they were fake drugs. The fake ARVs that were withdrawn from circulation in Tanzania were said to have been manufactured by a factory in Arusha, claims the management has since denied.

Whatever the case, the major issue of concern for members of the public is the circulation of fake drugs irrespective of their origin. All countries in the region have food and drug authorities that regulate and license the importation and release into the market of drugs of proven quality and standards. It appears though that those agencies do not coordinate their activities for the benefit of the East Africans.

It would be a good idea if the region's health officials also held regular meetings, more or less along the lines of the conferences of the region's crime fighting chiefs to exchange information and new developments concerning diseases and their management.

HIV/Aids remains a major health and development issue that devastates families where the patients also happen to be the bread winners or where those sick are the active members of families with many years ahead of not fully yet realized potential. As such, the condition requires very serious approaches to manage. It becomes more than double tragedy therefore, if patients are given placebos instead of active medication for their condition.

It is time the region coordinated and countries learnt from each other's experience in the fight against the killer pandemic as there are no signs for a cure soon.

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