17 April 2017

West Africa: Fighting Counterfeit Drugs or Mere Lip Service?

House Speaker James Emmanuel Nuquay recently decried high level of fake medicines importation within the sub-region, including Liberia, saying it is unacceptable and intolerable.

He raised the concern last week in Monrovia during the just-ended conference of ECOWAS parliamentary committees on health and social services, trade, customs and free movement to discuss policy on combating counterfeit and expired medical products that have become a silent killer in member countries.

The fact is, sub-standard or fake drugs have taken over the market in Liberia, and these products are being sold in the public glare, causing more harm than good to vulnerable citizens and residents.

The Liberia Pharmaceutical Board and the Dentist and Medical Board, among other regulatory bodies here seem to be toothless bulldogs and clawless eagles that merely bark, but can't bite or fly but cannot come down to grab a squirrel.

In other words, by the inaction or seeming lack of will of regulatory bodies, these harmfully fake drugs are becoming a booming trade in the subregion, transported or smuggled thru porous borders.

During the opening session of the regional conference, Speaker Nuquay pointed out that Nigeria accounts for 60 percent of the value of illicit medicines in the sub-region, followed by Guinea, 60 percent; Ivory Coast, 30 percent; Sierra Leone, 30 percent, and Liberia, 15 percent, respectively.

Health authorities in the country are suggesting that the number could increase to as high as 60 percent, if nothing were done to curb the proliferation of counterfeit drugs across countries of the subregion.

According to Speaker Nuquay, at least 250 deaths and 340 cases of chronic illnesses occur each year as a result of counterfeit medicines and illegal drugs in West Africa, noting that unscrupulous individuals and businesses take advantage of porous borders, security fragility and weakness of regulatory mechanisms to ply their trade.

We believe agencies that are responsible to enforce regulation are turning blind eyes either because they might be profiting from the trade or lack the capacity to enforce laws on the book, which is sad for an already impoverished and illiterate population such as ours in Liberia.

Nuquay called on member countries to send a clear and strong message that ECOWAS does not condone these kinds of unwholesome practices by naming and shaming those who take unrestrained pleasure in bringing illegal medical products to countries, their collaborators and government officials, who negate or renege on their duties and responsibilities in ensuring full compliance with the relevant laws and policies on counterfeit medicines and expired products.

As the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, MoustaphaCisse Lo said, the matter is a global phenomenon that has to be attacked at the source by deploying important financial and human means and establishing adequate legal arsenal in order to sanction all those involved in the manufacturing process, importation and sale of counterfeit medicines. This is where we think Liberian authorities should take heed and begin to apply laws on the book by being very rigid on the sale of fake drugs to the public to save innocent lives.

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