19 November 2012

Tanzania: Fake ARVs Saga Needs Judicial Verdict for Security

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
A patient holds drugs: there are more than two million HIV positive people in Tanzania.

MEDICAL experts say Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs bring a new lease of life to people living with HIV enabling most to recover fully, lead a normal life, but on medication daily.

Various scientific journals also have it that in ARVs, adherence is of paramount importance as lack of it can lead to serious health problems, leading to the mutation of the virus in the blood, thereby resulting in the victim individual to fail to recover even when taking the medicine.

The recent incident that occurred in Tanzania where a lone local industry manufacturing ARVs -- The Tanzania Pharmaceutical Industries (TPI) -- was accused of producing fake medicines has created panic among members of society especially those living with HIV and those whose relatives are using the life saving drugs.

Many debates have been heard, but authorities have been quoted as saying that all is well because the matter was discovered at an early stage and that the chances that there was little chance for users to have been affected.

"There is no need to panic as the matter was interrupted at its infancy. In fact, we have received many congratulatory messages from around the globe for having been able to take proactive measures to save our people," said the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Seif Rashid.

Dr Rashid said the government had not only been able to stop the fake drugs from circulating, but it had also been able to bridge the gap without disrupting the system. There is no doubt that the country with an estimated over 2 million people living with HIV and over 500,000 under ARV treatment needs to be assured of best and reliable treatment services.

Part of the ordinary people reacted angrily on the news of fake ARVs circulating in the country, saying that masterminds of the racket in question should be dealt with accordingly. "Whoever manufactured these drugs must have intended to kill and the government must take this issue more seriously by ensuring that the masterminds of this mess are taken to court and justice done to deter others," said Mikidadi Juma, a resident of Dar es Salaam.

Mr Juma looks at HIV pandemic as a national agenda that binds individuals as either infected or affected by the disease. Measures therefore need to be taken to save the nation and its people against greedy individuals, who lust for money.

Ms Sijaona (not her real name) called on the government to launch an intelligent and scientific investigation on the matter to help shed light on many questions that have been created by the problem. "It is contradicting to read on the media everyday reports that oppose each other.

The government's machineries have insisted that the drugs were manufacture by TPI, but the factory has categorically denied being responsible," she said. The TPI Executive Director, Mrs Zarina Madabida, shared the concern, saying whoever produced the drug was a killer and that stern legal measures should be taken against the culprits.

"We would like to categorically distance ourselves from the allegations. The said drugs did not emanate from TPI and are made using technology which we do not have in our factory," she said. By her account, TPI produces TT-VIR 30 with oval shaped tablets whereas the fake drugs are round shaped TT-VR 30.

She said that while the TTVIR 30 tablets are white in colour and marked TPI on one side and T 30 on the other side, the TT-VR 30 are white on one side and yellow on the other. "We do not have the technology that can produce tablets in a round shape and in two colours, the product is simply not ours," she said.

Ms Madabida has a strong belief that the fake ARVs is a syndicate by business rivals to tarnish the company's image after learning that the company was about to launch a new factory that would see their drug business going international.

The same concern is shared by the TPI Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ramadhani Madabida, who went to the extent of finger pointing the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) for knowing the truth behind the scene.

"These dirty games in business are not happening for the first time, things of this nature have happened in the neighbouring countries in the past and the investigations established that the brains behind were some unscrupulous multinational companies who wanted to tarnish local companies images," he said.

Mr Madabida seems to have known the would-be producer of the fake drugs (other than TPI) but insisted that TFDA stood a better chance of saying the truth and that they really knew who was responsible.

He unveiled plans by his company to go ahead with the launch of a state-of-the-art factory in Arusha constructed at the cost of 5 million Euros that would, among other things, triple production and double employment.

Machines, he explained, were waiting to undergo tests by the same TFDA, which had issued a notice of closing the former factory on the allegations of producing fake drugs in a bid to issue a certification and that productions would start in March, next year.

The TFDA on its part has maintained that TPI sold fake ARVs (TT-VIR30) to the Medical Stores Department (MSD). TFDA Director General, Mr Hiiti Sillo says that contrary to TPI's denials, his authority has documents and exhibits proving that the company was behind the production of the ARVs.

"The documents and exhibits have been submitted to security organs for further action," he stated. The TFDA's unshakeable stand on the matter comes at time when police are also saying that the investigation on the matter is going on and that the file is with the Director for Public Prosecution (DPP), an indication that it would soon land those accused in court.

The Deputy Director for Criminal Investigation, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Isaya Mngulu, said that the DPP would make decision on the findings which remain confidential and see which measures to take. It is indeed in the interest of many people that this matter comes to an end and the truth be known.

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