One of the major public health scares in Ghana today is the flooding of the pharmaceutical market with fake medicine which the Food and Drugs Board seems to have no answer. In Ghana today simply taking a pill to cure an illness can be suicidal. The case of Tobinco is a stark reminder of this seemingly incurable greed that is ailing our country.
“Will the medication be what it says it is, made by a reputable company? Or will it be a clever copy that looks virtually indistinguishable, but contains a sugar pill at best – or, at worst, something like the tainted teething syrup that killed at least 80 babies in 2009??

I got sickened by popping an anti malaria drug in Ghana last year after visiting and didn?t want to catch malaria so I decided to go to a drug store on Spintex Road (name withheld) to buy an anti malaria dug for preventive purposes. After taking the drug, I developed high fever with my body temperature soaring to 40 degrees, sweating profusely and started to vomit. Further tests revealed that the anti malaria drug was fake! I wonder if a child had taken it what would have happened. The scope of the of the problem is huge in Ghana as well as the rest of Africa where studies suggest that as much as about 40% of all malaria drugs are fake, and other counterfeit drugs are rampant on the market.

It is in the light of this that I read with delight the news that a new company formed by one of our own, a Ghanaian doctor by name Ashifi Gogo is on the rescue. His company Sproxil Inc. based in Cambridge is helping customers in these countries distinguish genuine medicines from fakes. Using a system it calls mobile product authentication, Sproxil allows customers to text a number on the package to confirm or refute the drug?s authenticity. The process ?is designed to use the abundance of cellphones to empower the consumers to avoid purchasing fake products,?? said company founder Ashifi Gogo. ?This way, they can reestablish trust between the consumer and the pharmacy.??

“This is a hugely innovative idea that we think could be a real game changer in terms of how pharmaceuticals are delivered,?? said one investor involved with this project. Given the seemingly inaction of governments in Africa to protect its citizens and the network of corruption in government and government agencies that are supposed to monitor that fake drugs don?t come in entering into deals to fill
their pockets at the expense of the safety of their fellow citizens, such initiative from private business helps a lot. I have written on the danger that such fake drugs pose to public health and the risk it further poses in
sinking our fragile health care system if we don?t act quickly and decisively against it. Every year in the developing world alone over 700,000 deaths are reported from fake drugs and this is equivalent to a jumbo jet full of people going down every day. We need to wage a global war on his senseless greed.
I am reproducing an article I wrote on the same subject a few years ago here for the benefit of readers
because the situation hasn?t changed since then.

Indeed it is the nation’s health which is at stake here. The Issue of fake and counterfeit drugs on the market is impacting negatively on the health of our nation and bringing the health services into disrepute. It is
absolutely disgusting to learn that those who are entrusted with protecting our health are rather condoning and conniving with fake drug manufacturers, importers and exporters to kill us.

Where is the Ghana Standards Board? Do we have a National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration in Ghana? Does the Ministry of Health care? Please, this is a serious public health issue. Somebody must act NOW to protect the nation’s health. There are too many fake drugs and counterfeit medicine on the market now and it is killing thousands of people on daily basis.It takes courage and determination to fight corruption but it looks like the present administration has none of these. The corrupt practices in the
manufacturing , import and export of drugs, cosmetics and food products need to be tackled with all seriousness now. Counterfeit drugs is a leading cost of death by stroke and heart failure in Ghana. The government needs to prosecute illegal drug traders and impose stricter standards on multinationals companies and their local collaborators. The Ministry of Health and the government must declare war on this fake drugs manufacturers , importers and exporters and their local agents.

Even Nigeria of all places is clamping down on fake and counterfeit drugs and as a result , these importers and exporters and fake drug manufacturers are dumping their products in Ghana. It is dangerous. Yet we have a government that is supposed to check on the safety of drugs, cosmetics and food products on the market to save and protect its citizens and the national health.

There is a believe that some unscrupulous officials of the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Standards Board collaborate with these fake drug manufacturers to bring the drugs into the country for a share of the profit. the people who are there to protect your health are in league with fake and heartless manufacturers and importers to line their pockets.

They collaborate with the Fake Drug Manufacturers and pass the drugs as safe for a large fee. This happens all over Africa because of corrupt governance. My friend, a London trained pharmacist who was employed by the Ghana Standards Board a few years ago, had to quit his job for fear of his life
when his analysis of drugs imported into the country by MOH proved to be sub standard. He was asked to alter the results of his test to make his analysis authentic but he resisted. He kept having all sorts of visitors including a government minister, top officials of the Ministry of Health/Standard Board and even
a senior pharmacology lecturer from UST) calling at his house at night trying to persuade and putting pressure on him to alter his evidence. His conscience would not allow him to collaborate with them and he eventually left his position and came back to the UK where he is currently working for a pharmaceutical
company.

This is a very important issue and need to be addressed with all seriousness as a national duty.? As a
citizen I feel a national duty to call the ministry of health and speak to whoever? is in charge of Public Health. Clinical trials for all drugs whether generic or not need to be performed before it is
approved for sale. The problem is that the drugs are being smuggled into the country, they by pass inspection or scrutiny by the board.. This is a massive problem.

A criminal gang of hoodlums and nation wreckers are? going to sink the public health system of Ghana and wreck havoc on the country. Remember, they take their kin out of the country for treatment against such simple ailments as headache. They don’t care about you. Products that have direct implication for health especially food, medicine, cosmetics etc must not be allowed to sell and Absolutely no one must be allowed to offer them for sale without checking the safety of the products. The government needs to revamp the Standards Board and the Food and Drugs Authority to be able to perform its watchdog role effectively.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah,

Tokyo Japan.

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