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Dealing with fake drugs: Strict surveillance needed

BY: Kweku Zurek

Drugs or medicines are meant to treat various ailments and health conditions to make the sick healthy again. Therefore, if those drugs are fake, no one is safe and all will be in danger.

The Daily Graphic finds worrying the increasing number of falsified, substandard and unregistered drugs in the country, a situation which the Ministry of Health (MoH) has described as alarming.

That there is enough evidence to support the fact that the country has problems with fake and substandard medicines, as well as unregistered pharmaceutical products flooding our markets, is not in doubt. This gives us the creeps and we urge vigilant surveillance by all stakeholders, including the public, to expose the cartel behind such dangerous trade.

Using medicines that are fake does not only make one’s health condition worse but can also be fatal, as checks by the MoH have indicated, and this must worry every Ghanaian.

For instance, according to the Director of Pharmacy at the MoH, Dr Joycelyn Naa Korkoi Azeez, a brand of uterotonic, a category of medication used to prevent bleeding after mothers have delivered, had been discovered to be substandard and might be responsible for some of the cases of maternal mortality recorded in the country.

Evidence also shows the prevalence of tampering with dates on medicines and packages, among others, in order to extend their shelf life, without approval.

How insensitive can we be because of our greed and desire to make money at all cost, at the expense of people’s health and lives.

The Daily Graphic sees this as criminal and urges the MoH, as well as all stakeholders, including the Food and Drugs Authority, the Ghana Standards Authority, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Ghana, wholesalers, importers of medicines and the National Health Insurance Authority, along with the law enforcement agencies, to leave no stone unturned in finding those involved in the illegal trade and let them face the full rigours of the law.

Anybody can fall victim to taking fake and substandard drugs to treat an ailment, which may worsen his or her condition and make it fatal, so we should not joke with this serious threat on our lives.

It is in view of this that we find refreshing the announcement by Dr Azeez at the launch of the Ghana Pharmaceutical Traceability Strategy and Document recently that the strategy would involve using electronic means to track and trace all medicines within the country’s legitimate supply chain, from the manufacturer all the way to the end user.

The system will be used to ensure that all medications are authenticated, and where they are not authenticated, they will be tracked and traced by the system and taken out. This medicine policy, anchored on patient safety and ensuring quality standard in patient safety, deserves everyone’s push and must not be made to fail.

Pharmacists especially, who dispense drugs, are key to ensuring that only medicines that have been cleared are given out, and they must be very vigilant in checking whether a particular drug has been authenticated or not.

Our prayer is that pharmacists who detect that any medication is fake will report to the right authorities for action to be taken to recall the medication in question, and that anyone who fails to do that in order to make greedy gain must not be spared.

We urge that financing should not become an issue in the training of people, the creation of awareness, the buying of scanners, the development of bar codes and linking of every pharmacy shop with wholesalers, as the strategy espouses, so that we will not fail in preventing the killing of our people through the use of fake and substandard drugs.

While the strategy may not completely block falsified medicines from entering the supply chain, we believe that the integrity of a given pack of medicine can be assured through strict regulations, monitoring cold-chain shipping, facilitating supply chain visibility and providing a range of serialised mandates.

We urge the regulators not to renege on their duty to save us all.