Kenya concerned over counterfeit drugs

February 9, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 8 – The increased reports of counterfeit drugs in the market especially for anti-malarial medicine raise concerns over the country’s progress in fighting counterfeits.

Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o announced in September last year that 80 percent of anti-malarial drugs in the country were fake. Unfortunately, consumers have not been educated on how to differentiate between fake drugs and genuine ones.

Capital News sought to find out where the problem lies and how these drugs are getting into the market.

“A lot of these drugs are imported illegally; they come through our ports of entry and because the people who are doing this know exactly what they are doing and they know what market they are targeting, they are also smart to know how to sneak them into the country,” Medical Services Permanent Secretary Professor James Ole Kiyiapi says.

He says the major problem the ministry, customs officials and airport police are facing is that some of these drugs are not being brought in large bulks like shipments.   

“Instead, some people are now carrying them in suitcases like personal effects. So they come to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and say they are carrying personal effects,” Professor Ole Kiyiapi explains.

“And if they happen to go through customs without being checked, then they get away with it. So they usually go for less bulk but higher value,” he adds.

Police Spokesman, Eric Kiraithe agrees with this saying there is a lot of money to be made in the illegal trade.

“Some of these people carry very many pieces in the suitcases with which they can make up to Sh1.5 million. The turnover per month is credible and if you bring in twice a month, you can see why many want to engage in this trade,” says the Police Spokesman.

The PS says another challenge is the existing Intellectual Property Act which allows parallel importation of a product from countries that are selling at cheaper rates, which he says opens room for counterfeiting further complicating the issue.

“It’s a very funny business; it’s a case of corrupt people trying to get quick money at the expense of everybody else,” he says.

Professor Ole Kiyiapi explains that counterfeits are not specific to medicine but any kind of products that are deliberately mislabeled and aimed at misleading the consumer.

“Although counterfeits are more often than not substandard, they are different in that a substandard product is one that is manufactured and through some fault in the factory, the particular specifications are not met and do not conform to the expected standard but is not intended to mislead.”

The government official says anti-malarials are the most counterfeited because the disease is now affecting millions of people and has become a major killer.

“Those trading in it have a market, those who are selling and those importing are in this together,” he says.

He says the Eldoret Airport is also being used to smuggle in the counterfeit medicine because it is not as strict as the JKIA in terms of customs.

Mr Kiraithe, on the other hand, says that arresting the culprits is tricky because it is difficult to immediately identify a counterfeit since they are always labeled like the genuine drugs.

“It requires special expertise which is not readily available to differentiate between counterfeits and genuine drugs. But we are developing strategies to fight the menace.”

He says a section of the police force attended an Interpol meeting in November last year where they were trained on how to fight the menace.

“There is too much cover up meaning there is a ready market. You can tell there is a huge profit margin if you just count the number of chemists in any particular street of Nairobi.”

“Unlike in the Western world where there are few of them in the main streets because of the expensive nature of the job, here you find them even in very expensive buildings,” he adds.

Professor Ole Kiyiapi points out that in other cases the drugs come in through normal importation procedures but escape because inspection is done through random sampling.

“All inspections are not a 100 percent so I wouldn’t want to blame any institution in wholesale. But we also want to harmonise our regulations with those of neighbouring countries so that we can have a regional approach to stop this,” he says.

He however says the counterfeits trade is not as sophisticated as is the case of drug barons, but it is much more simplistic.

“In counterfeits we are talking about a case where people are carrying the drugs in suitcases as opposed to swallowing them. The hard drugs tend to be of much more value and so people can go with smaller quantities and use all manner of sophisticated means to smuggle them in.”

The PS points out that the legal framework is also weak hence more people are willing to take the risk.

“When the anti-counterfeit bill is enacted, it will deal with this because the fines will be five times the value of the product and will also include a jail sentence unlike presently where one can get away with only Sh5,000 fine,” he says.

Prof Ole Kiyiapi adds that there is increased vigilance with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board now conducting regular post market surveys with random checks in chemists after products are already in the market.


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