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Opinions of Friday, 28 July 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Medical Terrorism: Mr. Minister Of Health Can You Help?

The title of the documentary was “Bad Medicine”. The channel was Link T.V. The place in question was/is Nigeria. The actors were/are mean and callous fraudsters mainly operating overseas but with their able distributors in Africa and elsewhere. After sitting through this riveting documentary, I can’t help but to share what I learnt with you. Did you know that in 2001 half of all drugs in Nigeria were counterfeit?

To quote LinkTV website (, “In 2003, four children died after undergoing cardiac surgery in a top teaching hospital Nigeria. The adrenalin drugs they had been fed with contained fake drugs”. Dr Dora Akunyili, director of NAFDAC lost her own sister, a diabetic, to death because the insulin, as it turned out, was fake. If the above has not seared your conscience yet, let me come in form another angle. Just imagine that your relative or bosom friend went in for surgery. You get a jarring call that about $200 is needed for medication. Worried, you hastily FedEx the needed amount home. The medicine is bought and sent to the hospital alright. The only problem is that the medicine is fake and your relation dies anyway. Does it register now? This is life and death serious and we need make this a national priority. I mean now!

According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, “counterfeit medicines are fake or copycat medicines”. They may be contaminated, contain the wrong active ingredients (the formula that makes the medicine work), be made with the wrong amount of ingredients, contain no active ingredients at all, and be packaged in phony packaging. In short, counterfeits medicine kills deceptively and ruthlessly. It also weakens the effectiveness of real medicines by helping the disease agents to build immunity and resistance to real drugs. If the situation in Nigeria is this bad, what about Ghana? Don’t we have merchants peddling drugs to and from Nigeria? Should we not be working full time to ensure the integrity of drug supplies in Ghana too? Have we researched our own system in Ghana? In Nigeria, they are burning these drugs in bonfires. Countries like India have to have all their drugs channeled through NAFDAC (Nigeria’s FDA). India has several drugs banned because it happens to be the chief exporter of fake drugs to Nigeria.

Two countries named in the documentary for perpetrating this kind of wickedness are India and China. Ironically, we are courting and nursing vibrant relationships with these countries. The funny thing is that, India has a stringent drug regime at home, but wink and nod to its unscrupulous entrepreneurs who sell medicine that could blind and kill people in Nigeria. India for example, will not allow the sale of the same drugs that they permit to be shipped and sold in Africa. Do you know that as a businessperson, you can go to India and order drugs at whatever strength you want, yet sell them as if they were full strength originals? One Indian executive is caught on tape telling the interviewer who posed as a business woman that, they grease the palms of those in charge in India. Indeed, this fraudulent executive goes on to boast that he gave a Bentley to one of the higher-ups. The latter shows how profitable this fake medicine business is. Also, the cold calculating ways of these executives seem to have rubbed off on their wicked distributors. In Nigeria for example, a raft of kingpins tried to kill Dr Akunyili, director of NAFDAC by shooting her. As if that was not enough, they burnt down the office of NAFDAC. What kind of animals are these ghoulish twerps who assume that it is ok to sell fake medicine that kills their own?

These thugs are so crafty that they’ve even infiltrated technologically advanced countries like the US and Britain, who are believed to have stringent drug inspection regimes. Big time drug firms like Pfizer are being duplicated with Vaseline ease. The bottom line is that you are not immune to this scourge no matter where you are. The difference though, is that, Africa has a weak drug inspection regime and stands to suffer inordinately. No wonder these criminals have chosen Africa primarily as their dumping grounds. What intrigues me is the fact that, Ghana is not doing or saying a thing. Can we be that insular when it comes to this problem? I can bet Ghana is knee deep in this quagmire. So, who is willing to take these rogues on? Like we learnt from “maggotgate”, there are always unscrupulous folks who are willing to do anything for profit. In some cases, innocent peddlers may not even know that they are part of this huge web that kills mercilessly, foe and friend.

What therefore we can do in Ghana to clean up our system or prevent this cancer from, if it hasn’t already, metastasizing or contaminating our well of medical supplies. One thing we can do for sure is urge our people to speak up and seek redress in the courts. Our “fama nyame” (give it to God) attitude will certainly not be helpful here. In the Nigerian episode, it is striking to note that all the parents would not have done a thing if the authorities had not stepped in. Like clockwork, they all invoked “fame nyame” to the delight of these criminals. Doctors should also be encouraged to speak up if they suspect foul play. Given that most of our folks are poor and our courts system barely works, it will be helpful if government could set up medical panels to hear or investigate such cases quickly. Random checks on retail outlets must also be adopted as part of the panacea. Folks, this is a very serious issue that cannot be taken for granted.

The other alternative is to turn to the tried and tested Dr. Dora Akunyili of NAFDAC for help and guidance. This woman is doing a fantastic job in Nigeria and with her able staff, they can help us set up a similar organization in Ghana. They can actually, share their experience and knowledge about particular drugs with us, as we cut our teeth in this area. Benchmarking the efforts of NAFDAC will certainly be a good start. As it stands, certain drugs from India are banned in Nigeria. Just getting the list of banned drugs will be a great start for our folks. Of course, not just India but any other suspected country too.

All of these ideas aimed at scrubbing our medical supply system clean will not work if our government is not committed. We need assurance from the minister of health that he is going to find the funds to pillar an organization that will have as its mandate, sanitization of our medical supply system. We need his assurance that those found dealing in these drugs will point to the source and also be dealt with legally. We need the assurance of the minister that all citizens will be informed about those businesses that sell fake medicine so that the public can shun them. We need his assurance that MOH will operationalize a full blown outreach program to inform and alert the citizens of Ghana about this problem. What we don’t want to see happen is back door deals that will recycle these criminals back into the pharmaceutical business. What we don’t want is inaction laced with puffed up promises.

Lastly, let me urge this government to think seriously about reacquiring GIHOC. Yes, I am not a fan of state capitalism. However, the health of our people is very crucial to our development. When it come to my people, nothing is too good for them. Therefore, to guarantee that drips and basic medication like APC and Paracetamol are clean, pure and fresh, we must take some control. This means that we must produce our own at home. From where I sit, this is a serious security issue. This is certainly one sure way of dealing with this form of medical terrorism. The lives of our people should not be subjected to the winds of unscrupulous profit. These medical terrorist must be put out of business at all cost.

In one of the taped conversation between the fraud inspired Indian executive and the woman posing as a business executive, the Indian is heard saying this, “my country is my problem and your country your problem”. The import of this assertion is that, you worry about the laws and requirements in your country and I will worry about mine. This Indian fellow has a stiff message for us. If we don’t worry about our country who will? Even criminals know that we are responsible for our own country. What about us? Do we care enough about our country and its people to raise enough hell on this issue? For all you know, that relative of yours that never came back from that surgery or hospital visit may just have been a victim of this worldwide fraud. My brothers and sisters, I have done my part and it is now your turn to do your part. Together we can help clean up the system. Visit for more info. Lets go get them! Yes we can!!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.