President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Chairperson of the Authority of Head of States and Government of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), has said that counterfeit drugs continue to pose a serious risk to public health in the sub-region.
The President said the proliferation of these sub-standard medicines, which are falsely labeled, is a major cause of mortality and the loss of public confidence in medicines and in health structures.
She said despite the close cooperation among drug companies, governments and international organizations on trade, health, customs and excise on counterfeiting, the prevalence of counterfeit drugs appears to be rising.
The President made the statement on Monday, April 10, at a resort in Monrovia during the official opening of the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Social Welfare, Trade, Customs, and the free movement of the ECOWAS Parliament.
The President asserted that counterfeit drugs, including medical products, continue to harm patients and undermine the efforts of governments in the region to provide better health services to their citizens.
She noted that though counterfeiting of drugs and medical products was considered as a situation largely affecting developing countries, it has become a global issue that continues to pose a major challenge to countries making efforts to improve their healthcare systems for the wellbeing of their citizens.
"When I took over the current Chair of ECOWAS, I mentioned a four pillar priority agenda consisting of consideration and consolidation of peace, security and good governance, improvement of economic and financial stability in the community, conclusion of all ratification and domestication of protocols as well as transformation of Vision 2020 with emphasis on institutional reform of the community.
"You, as Parliamentarians are key stakeholders in the achievement of those goals and in particular the achievement of Vision 2020 which, as you know, aims to create a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive region built on good governance and where people have the capacity to access and harness the enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental preservation," she said.
Also contributing, House Speaker Emmanuel Nuquay said the proliferation of counterfeit and expired medicines is not only Liberia's problem, arguing that the sub-region and all of Africa is vulnerable to the illegal drugs trade.
He said the fragility of the security sector and the weakness of the regulatory mechanisms are taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals and businesses.
"This kind of behavior is unacceptable and intolerable... The Liberian Legislature, particularly the House of Representatives, stands ready to work with other branches of government and the Parliament of ECOWAS," he said.
The Speaker said that in a survey conducted by the West African Regional Health Program, the trade of counterfeit medicines in the Liberia stands between 15 - 60 percent; and the same report suggests that Nigeria and Ghana are the major hubs for counterfeit medicine, with Guinea serving as a conduit for counterfeit and illegal medicine entering Liberia through the border in Ganta, Nimba County.
The Speaker said a 2014 report on the trafficking of fake medicines in West Africa released by an independent think tank group based in Paris, France, the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), said Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana serve as the breeding grounds for counterfeit medicine and illegal products in West Africa and that China and India are the two major suppliers.
The Speaker indicated: "Among other things, we can derive or carve common legislations that will criminalize the manufacturing, transportation, importation and sale of counterfeit and expired medicines in member countries."
The Speaker emphasized that the government must send a clear and strong message that "we don't condone these kinds of unwholesome practices by naming and shaming those who take unrestrained pleasure in bringing illegal medical products to countries, including their collaborators and government officials who negate or renege on their duties and responsibilities on ensuring full compliance with the relevant laws and policies on counterfeit medicines and expired products."
He said: "Our government must introduce tough sanctions to deal with offenders who are bent on polluting our countries. We must provide economic empowerment for our people to alleviate poverty and illiteracy in our region."
The Speaker of the 4th Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament, Mustapha Cisse Lo, said the proliferation of counterfeit and expired products in the markets call for serious follow-ups, not only in the markets where they are easily sold at lower prices, thereby making them accessible to the various layers of the population, but also on the producers who are generally not in West Africa but rather distant countries.
"It is a global phenomenon that has to be attacked by deploying important financial and human means and establishing adequate legal arsenal in order to sanction those involved in the manufacturing, importation and sale," the ECOWAS Speaker said. "That is why we have decided to include in our program of activities under the fourth legislature and to continue to collaborate with, the West African Health Organization."
Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the President of the ECOWAS Commission in Liberia, Ambassador Tunde Ajisomo, said the proliferation of counterfeit medicines in the region must be tackled with seriousness.
The 3-day Delocalized Meeting of the Joint Committee of ECOWAS Parliament continues today and ends on Wednesday, April 12.