Tanzania: a history of counterfeit drugs

Fake anti-malarial drugs have long been a problem and are of even more concern now that the prices of first-line drugs are so much higher than the standard ones of 10 years ago.  Tanzania is one of the countries trying to confront this problem.

Today IRIN News quotes the president of Tanzania’s Medical Association as saying, “People are interested in getting a profit, but this is a human rights issue. The consequences of this business are really immense. Take, for example, a person with severe malaria: if he or she cannot access the genuine drug, then it means they may die.”

IRIN found that, “fake drugs will generate US$75 billion in revenues by 2010, nearly double that of 2005. Global counterfeit syndicates use evolving consumer technologies that make it ever easier to imitate legitimate drugs.” In addition “The CTI (Confederation of Tanzania Industries) estimates between 15 and 20 percent of all merchandise circulating in the country is counterfeit, earning Tanzania a reputation as a dumping ground for imitation goods, including fake drugs. Officials say suppliers from China, India, Europe and the USA have used the country as a gateway into Africa.”

The challenge arises because, “It is difficult to punish the vendors of fake drugs in Tanzania, because fakes are so hard to identify. In Dar es Salaam, one pharmacist pointed to receipts showing where he sourced the medicines in his shop, and insisted he only purchased drugs from wholesalers that worked with the Tanzania Pharmacy Board,” according to IRIN.

IPP Media traces that this has been a long standing problem –

  • In August 1999, fake Metakelfin labeled as a genuine product from the original manufacturer, Pharmacia and Upjohn, was found in circulation in some pharmacies in the country
  • Laboratory analysis confirmed that the counterfeit Metakelfin actually contained paracetamol and the public was
    alerted. In May 2000, counterfeit Ampicillin capsules (250mg) were found circulating in some retail pharmacies
  • Laboratory analysis confirmed the capsules contained potato starch. In June 2001, expired Chloroquine Injection (from an unregistered Indian company) was relabeled as Quinine Dihydrochloride Injection 600mg/2ml from a company in Cyprus
  • In January 2005, fake Gentrisone Cream (a product of Shin Poong, South Korea) was reported. In this case, the active ingredient was replaced with hand and body lotion
  • (November 2007) Jacob Hassan was diagnosed with malaria. The medic prescribed three tablets of Metakelfin to be taken at once and three others after a week – as the medical facility had ran out of the tablets then, the patient decided to purchase the dose from a pharmacy in the vicinity – little did he know that the purported medicine he had bought was actually paracetamol

The in October 2008 Interpol reported that, “In Tanzania 191 locations, including pharmacies, warehouses and illicit markets, were inspected resulting in the seizure of some 100 types of products. Among the confiscated drugs were anti-malarial, cardiac, anti-fungal, multivitamin, hormonal and skin medicines. Police closed four pharmacies and 18 drug shops (known as Duka la Dawa Baridis) found to be in breach of the law. A total of 44 police cases were opened.”

With special effort to involve the private sector in achieving malaria treatment coverage targets, there is need also to involve then – industry, private medical clinics, medicine shops and all – in the process of ensuring drug quality, safety and surveillance.

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