Tanzania: fake drugs, wrong drugs, more drugs

Selling malaria medicines in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa is a big business. The market is not one that is easily dominated by a few brands, although the Affordable Medicines Facility malaria (AMFm) would hope otherwise. It appears that volume of relatively low or lower cost malaria drugs is the path to profit, not sales of a pricey mega-drug.

New from Tanzania is that this vast market is attractive to all sorts of manufacturers, even those making fake drugs. According to The Citizen, “The Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) yesterday issued a public warning against the sham product marketed under the name Eloquine (Quinine Sulphate 300mg USP) and packed in a bottle containing 1,000 tablets each.”

IPP Media reported that, “the authority has seized 155 tins of the fake drugs in Dar es Salaam which were yet to be distributed” and a suspect has been detained. The company headquarters in Nairobi helped point out differences in packaging between their products and the fake ones. A major concern of course is that role the fake drug was supposed to play. Normally quinine would be used in a limited way such as for pregnant women, so it is unclear how the fake drug would have been marketed to make a profit.

All of this comes amid efforts of AMFm to ensure that prequalified anti-malarial drugs reach the market (public and private) at prices people can afford. Cheap fake drugs threaten this effort.  A Tanzania study sponsored by the Clinton Foundation/CHAI, “showed promising results: subsidizing the ACTs at the top of the supply chain successfully increased the stocking of ACTs in drug shops and brought down the price of ACTs significantly.”

Prior to AMFm, but after Tanzania changed its malaria drug policy from SP to ACT, “the saleability of ACT was negligible. SP was best-selling.” Pre-AMFm price differentials between ACTs and cheaper but less effective medicines, put ACTs at a disadvantage.
addo2.pngPart of Tanzania’s approach to improving quality of malaria case management in medicine shops is upgrading the quality of these.  Accredited drug dispensing outlets (ADDOs) are places where the sales people and the products are both upgraded. When Tanzania changed its malaria drug policy from SP to ACT, access to ACTs in the private sector was low, while focus was on the public supply of ACTs.  It appears that with the event of AMFm ACT supplies in ADDO shops and other private outlets, but this does not preclude the presence of inappropriate or substandard drugs in non-accredited shops known as duka la dawa baridi.

Despite improved access to ACTs and improved quality of front line medicine store outlets, Tanzania cannot let up on its pharmacovigilence. As we move closer to malaria elimination – for example in Zanzibar in Tanzania – the importance of appropriate parasitological diagnosis and prompt treatment will increase. We cannot afford to have fake and inappropriate drugs compete with ACTs.

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