10 January 2013

Zambia: Fake Pads Bust - a Wake Up Call to Law Enforcers

THE breaking news that police had busted a racket where fake pads were being sold in some shops in Lusaka did not just evoke some sad feelings in every woman but also rang a bell in my heart.

Lusaka province police chief Joyce Kasosa made the revelation on Monday during a media briefing.

She disclosed that police had raided 15 shops and confiscated 423 boxes containing 6,768 packets of counterfeit sanitary pads to the tune of KR94,752 (K94.7million).

The counterfeit products were labelled 'Always' and the operation was conducted in Kamwala trading area.

The suspects were facing two counts of selling goods with a forged trademark.

The second count was that of infringing copyright work which was contrary to section 28 (d) of the Copyright Act of the laws of Zambia.

Ms Kasosa explained that all the counts attracted a five-year jail term for a first offender and ten years for a second offender.

She said the effects of the counterfeit pads were wide and hinge on economic and health aspects thereby posing a potential to cause health complications such as fungal infections, sores, maybe in extreme cases cervical cancer as well as exposure to the HIV and AIDS (although this latter part has not been scientifically proven).

It is therefore imperative on the part of the authorities concerned that if the raid was extended to many parts of the country, police would surely come up with a bigger haul especially on the out-lying areas where tuntembas are dotted all over and people may not just be that aware of this development.

The liberalised economy has created many opportunities for a few greedy individuals to trade in all sorts of merchandise without any concerns or due regard to health risks and this could be one of them.

The other thing is that our border areas are too porous and so anyone can bring in anything at anytime even that which turns out to be injurious to our people.

If the counterfeit products had already flooded the market as police have had us think then the only inference that could be drawn from there is that they could not have been detected at the point of entry.

Or if they were, then there is no doubt that there was some amount of bribery involved to allow them into the country.

I urge the police and the copyright wing to cast their net wider and am sure in doing so they would catch more fish than they have done now.

A couple of months ago when I had sauntered into a local salon for a hairdo, I was privy to an interesting chat where the hair dressers were busy cautioning other women to be on the look-out for some fake pads that had flooded the market which had wrecked havoc in the lives of a number of womenfolk.

The duo Annie Mwansa and Imeldah Mwamba went on to explain that these pads were locally available and that consumers needed to be cautious whenever they were making their monthly purchases.

Initially I brushed off that talk as being one of those mere cheap gossips that could not be substantiated in anyway but with these latest developments, I can now connect something.

The sanitary ware in question were said to be in essence a replica of a known common brand name and so they were being sold to unsuspecting consumers. Unless one carefully examined the towel it was not easy to detect that it was not genuine.

But as I sat back and listened to this conversation, I started to wonder in my mind that if this assertion was true then why were unscrupulous people peddling in such sensitive merchandise which could not just be harmful to our women and girls' reproductive health but could also possess a potential of distorting the national economy?

What first struck me was that if such products had flooded the market as they were being portrayed by those narrating the story then they were obviously cheap to make them affordable by the majority.

I recalled some years back former Finance Minister Ng'andu Magande announced a reduction in duty for importation of sanitary ware which was roundly welcomed by many women organisations.

The idea behind it was that the sanitary ware was previously too expensive for the ordinary woman in society to afford and so the reduction meant that more women could now afford them and that way promote high levels of hygiene among the womenfolk.

The other argument was that most girls were absent from school during some days of the month as they could not afford the exorbitant price of sanitary ware so in bringing down the prices that in itself allowed more girls to remain in school even on their wet days because they had some form of protection from soiling.

My greatest thought really went to the vulnerable women in society and then I asked myself if they were in a position to figure out what is fake and what is genuine considering that they were prone to financial constraints perhaps what they needed was some kind of health talk to sensitise them on that.

They were probably buying the so called condemned 'Always' simply because it was cheap and that is what their pockets could afford.

The fact that the prices of the same product was reduced due to tax reduction should not mean that then the quality should be compromised to even allow some unscrupulous people bring in adulterated sanitary ware all in the name of affordability by the common woman.

Memories are still fresh when in our olden school days we had sanitary ware bearing brand names such as Johnson and Johnson products which were considered genuine and safe to use by both women and girls.

Unfortunately these brands fizzled out with time and now we have a totally new range of sanitary ware which requires prudent consumers to carefully choose from.

Young women Christian Association (YWCA) Copperbelt coordinator Jurita Mutale has condemned the whole thing saying that its being perpetrated by traders who have abused the well intended gender sensitive budget which was presented by Mr Magande that time meant to bring down the prices of sanitary ware by importing adulterated stuff.

"The mere removal of duty on such products did not mean that quality should now be compromised the sanitary ware in issue is won on very sensitive reproductive organs of a women's body which could be exposed to infections if not properly handled, so the culprits behind such selfish ventures who are clearly doing so for the love of money should be brought to book. Justice should prevail as their actions amount to killing women," she said.

Ms Mutale said those tasked with the responsibility of checking the standards of goods should step up their efforts and conduct regular inspections in order to catch up with such kind of crooks in the market system and prevent similar occurances in future.

She also called for more sensitisation campaigns in both the electronic and print media and also by the traders themselves who are dealing in sanitary ware so that only genuine products could be promoted and fake ones exposed.

Ms Mutale recalled the olden days when firms like Lever Brothers used to advertise their products in the community for all to see and confirm that they were genuine products.

"I saw the several boxes containing the fake 'Always' products which were confiscated and displayed at one of the police stations in Kitwe. I had a close up with one of the samples and upon examination it was clear from the packaging material as well as the content itself that the product was a counterfeit.

"On behalf of the women-folk am urging them to be extra careful and learn to examine the various brands available on the market before making their purchases," she said.

On the other hand University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Reproductive health specialist Swebby Macha said the substandard sanitary ware had a potential of increasing the risk of women getting fungal infections or thrush which can result into sores on their private parts.

"Our worry is that when you are using a product which is not genuine it can cause some disturbances or imbalances in the yeast content in a woman's private organs which can result in an irritation and also pose as a nuisance to herself as well as her partner," Dr Macha said.

He however advised the people responsible for checking on standards and quality of various products that are found on the market to be up to the task and not neglect their duties as doing so would be to the detriment of the citizens at large.

Dr Macha said concerns of counterfeit products hitting the market should be seriously addressed by all those concerned or else if left unchecked like in the case of fake sanitary ware it has a potential of generating into a major health problem in future which may also come with huge cost implications on the part of the nation.

When all is said and done the duty really is on the concerned parties and citizens alike to report any suspicious looking products to the police which could fall in the category of counter-feit products.

If it so easy to have sanitary ware adulterated which an ordinary eye could elude who knows what else might turn out to be counterfeited under the sun.

It is best to be alert all the time that to take chances.

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