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Opinions of Friday, 22 May 2015

Columnist: Fatawu, Ayamga Bawa

An Open Letter to the Ministry of Health

The deleterious implications of counterfeit drugs is understood to be a central challenge to the integrity of public health systems around the globe, as well as a direct threat to individual health and welfare (Finlay20110.The prevalence of counterfeit drugs appear to be rising and has not been countered by close cooperation between pharmaceutical companies, government and international organisations concerned with trade, health, customs and excise and counterfeiting .There is little published medical research assessing their prevalence, public health impact or probably counter measures(Newton et al..2002)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines counterfeit drugs as ‘’drugs that have been deliberately or fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and or source’’ (WHO 2011).The product could include incorrect ingredients, may misstate the amount of active ingredients, or are manufactured under circumstances that lack quality control.
Counterfeit pharmaceuticals remain one of the world’s fastest growing industries. Recent trends suggest an increase in counterfeit drug sale to over $70 billion in 2010, an increase of over 90% from 2005.A report by Pfizer, a global pharmaceutical firm, on counterfeit drugs states that profits from counterfeiting today surpasses gains made from heroin and cocaine (PGS,2007).This paper seeks to discuss the prevalence of counterfeit drugs in Ghana and highlights strategies which may influence policy to help eliminate the public health threat posed by counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
The counterfeiting of all manner of products is on the rise globally. In Ghana today, there is counterfeiting of documents, currency, software and electronics, amongst many others. However, no other product has the capacity to harm, as much as kill its consumers, as do illicit pharmaceuticals. A worrisome aspect of the counterfeit drug hazard is that the effects of consuming such drugs go unnoticed, except in cases where it results in mass deaths. The effects of counterfeit drugs on patients are difficult to quantify and are mostly hidden in public health statistics. Despite the existence of a few drug manufacturing companies capacity utilization is below average and about majority of the drugs in the Ghanaian system are thus imported.
This paper also wish to throw lights on the spate of our health facilities both private and public being manned by unqualified or uncertified personnel to an extend of even school drop-out’s serving as medical assistants; people who cannot read and write sell drugs of all kind to consumers and you and I know the health implication of these acts. Reliable reports reaching this paper indicates that many pharmaceutical shops have registered with certificates that belongs to individuals who directly or indirectly have nothing to do with the outlets but only do that for a fee. One astonishing happenings in our deprived areas is the combination for drugs for humans and agro-chemicals in the same shop and even kept next to each other; because of the illiteracy of the seller he or she sees it as normal. The questions this paper asks are: Which institution is responsible for issuing certificates to these unscrupulous people? How often do they monitor the activities of these pharmaceutical shops and Over the Counter (OTC) medicinal shops?
Drug availability in public and private health care delivery system in Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa is in a poor state. Various reasons have been adduced for this trend. This include: inadequate funding of hospitals pharmacies and the ‘’out of stock syndrome’ ’involvement of unqualified persons in the procurement and distribution of drugs, inadequate storage facilities, transportation and distribution
Distribution; the distribution network in Ghana you and can attest to is nothing worth talking about but in a state of chaos because it consist of open markets, patent is a common scene in Nigeria to see petty traders who sell kola nuts, cigarettes among other items, in the market kiosks, motor parks, and road sides hawking drugs that range from over the counter (OTC) items to antibiotics. These medicines are usually left under the sun in such conditions that could facilitate the deterioration of active ingredients.
A bold step like a strong legal framework and effective punishment to serve as a real deterrent is needed. Counterfeiting of any product that presents a health or safety hazard to consumers should be treated as a criminal offence with a possible mandatory prison term.

Government ought to equip regulatory bodies with the requisite tools to enable them identify counterfeit products and use that knowledge to apply the relevant sanctions to discourage people.
Another pragmatic step in tackling this canker is by instituting a formidable taskforce which will work in collaboration with law enforcement agencies they ought to intensify the raids on factories and warehouses of suspected distributors of counterfeit and pirated products irrespective of perpetrators political affiliations.
The government of the day with the help of its subsidiary bodies ought to carry out a surprise inspection of certificates as well as authenticate them of all health personnel in both the government and private health facilities to fish out unscrupulous and quack persons; it is not surprising one victim was caught in Wa the regional capital of Upper West.

Ayamga Bawa Fatawu