The Reality Zone is written by Vicky Wireko
The Reality Zone is written by Vicky Wireko

Alert! Greed, wickedness in contaminated drugs

Contaminated drugs making their way into our markets? That is how far the greed and mad rush to make money at the expense of the vulnerable have taken the few who would stop at nothing when it comes to making cheap money.

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It may sound unusual and incomprehensible but at what seems like an escalated and alarming state of affairs, the plan by some drug manufacturing companies to falsely misrepresent supposed ingredients in some drugs is becoming alarming.

Falsified drugs

Sometime last month, indeed, just about a couple of weeks ago, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) issued an alert notice, warning the public about what they called a falsified anti-malaria drug on the Ghanaian market. It sounds scary does it not?

Why would anyone choose to contaminate anti-malaria drugs for a market that is malaria endemic and people seek and pursue desperate remedies because malaria can kill if not well treated?  

Is it a premeditated plan to make quick money on the huge numbers of malaria sufferers in areas such as ours? Or is it a premeditated plan to harm? My guess is the former – to make quick and excess profit based on the demand by patients, old and young.

FDA Alert

According to the FDA alert, the counterfeit anti-malaria drug – Combiart Tablet – was discovered on the market as part of the Authority’s market surveillance. As reported in the notice, the drug, Combiart Artemether/Lumefantrine, 20/120mg was taken from the Northern Region of Ghana. It did not contain any of the two active pharmaceutical ingredients stated on the label.

Classifying it as a counterfeit drug, the FDA released further details for the public to watch out for. The drug’s batch number is 722519 and the manufacturing date is 03/2021 with expiry date of 02/2024.  

The manufacturer of the alleged fake drug is Strides and Arcolab Ltd and the country of manufacture is India. No one should be deceived by a NAFDAC registration, A4 – 6700 and an FDB/SD registration number 133-7453 also embossed on the drug.

The alert called on health workers and the general public to be on the lookout and report to the FDA the presence of that particular drug.

The regrettable fact is that these drug fraudsters have escalated their trade and are active also on the continent. 

BBC News report

Sometime late last year, a BBC Africa news report raised an alarm on a case of falsified cough syrup specifically in The Gambia and possibly in other parts of the African continent. In The Gambia, the contaminated drug had reportedly caused the death of 66 children and a number of acute kidney injuries.

The drug, Promethazine Oral Solution BP, is a product of Maiden Pharmaceuticals and manufactured in India. The drug was colourless and odourless, making it difficult to detect any abnormality just at the look of it.

According to the report, however, when samples of the drug were sent to laboratories in Senegal and Ghana for testing, the alarming information discovered about the drug which was meant for children was that it contained two toxic products — an anti-freeze agent and a solvent. Any wonder children who took the drug died or suffered kidney damages?

Allegedly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) immediately ordered all countries to remove the drug from circulation to forestall any further harm.  

Meanwhile, The Gambian authorities had also commenced a door-to-door investigation and search for samples of the syrup for destruction and further action. So far, no other country has reported seeing the cough syrup in their markets.

In India, where the news about the contaminated cough syrup was produced, the BBC report alleged that the government had ordered immediate investigation into the contaminated syrup.

Incidentally, India is said to host one-third of the world’s drug manufacturing sites currently.

So, if such acts of falsifying drugs and coming to dump them on unsuspected markets are not an act of premeditated harm, I wonder what else it could be. The sad thing is that it is not a one-off act. FDA confirms that they do regular market surveillance as part of their routine checks as a national regulator and publish them.  

Many a time, the Authority detects counterfeit drugs and alerts the public.

Perhaps, however, not until the fear is put into these manufacturers or importers by naming and shaming, or sometimes even prosecuting, these fraudsters will always get away with murder. We need to have examples set and time is overdue.

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Since FDA claims they do see a few of contaminated drugs in their market surveillance, the time has come to not only name and shame but also to go deeper. Once the perpetrators are named, they should be prosecuted and given harsh sentences to serve as deterrent.

We have let miscreants off the hook for far too long and they continue to perpetrate their crimes and go free to enjoy their undeserved profits. They have to face severe consequences for the harm their acts cause the public.

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