It is a day dedicated to the remembrance of the millions of people infected, afflicted & affected by the scourge of HIV Aids. This year's World Aids Day comes at an opportune time for East Africa albeit in an ironic way.
While statistics in the region show falling infection rates which is positive a development, the reports that an Arusha-based manufacturer may have been involved in the manufacture of fake life prolonging HIV drugs, are part of the worrying trend worldwide, where drug manufacturers are cashing in on the desperation of the afflicted, to find quick-working but effective solutions to the HIV AIDS menace.
In East Africa today the threat goes far beyond a single manufacturer. It is no hidden secret that East Africa has been for a while now, the dumping ground of fake, dangerous drugs that masquerade for cheaper alternatives to the more expensive but effective drugs in the market.
The drug market in East Africa is dominated by briefcase companies and individuals with next to none knowledge of what should be an expert's field. They take advantage of the poor or absent drugs procurement policies and policing the latter, which is affected by lack of capacity.
They take advantage of a huge lack of technical capacity with Tanzania having less that 800 pharmacists for a population of 44m while Kenya has 2,000 pharmacists for a population of 41m. The lucrative drugs trade does not just involve individuals out to make quick money.
It is suspected that some of the licensing officials in East Africa's Medical Stores Departments (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda all have these entities) and the bureau in charge of quality i.e. UBS in Uganda, KBS in Kenya and TBS in Tanzania are involved in this sick trade.
The lack of capacity plus unscrupulous business men has led to a deadly combination where drugs with no known treatment efficacy have found their way into the East Africa market allegedly from manufacturers in India, China among other East and Far Eastern countries where cottage industries produce drugs with abandon. The easier root is to blame the manufacturer of fake drugs.
However, the reality is much more complex than that. Where a supply chain mechanism has been created for a ready & willing market, the complicity calls for a much more serious approach to ensure lives are not lost through the usage of fake, non effective drugs which cause drug resistance and thus make treatment a much more complicated and expensive affair.
These deterrence measures must include effective legislation, upgrade and integration of the East African Standards Bureau into one entity with similar standards of verification. They must include the enlistment into Bureau of Standards of Pharmacists and drug specialists and the investment of more funds into research and development so as to produce more effective drugs inexpensively.