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New Vision
Fake drugs hit Ugandan market
David Mugabe
September 7, 2009
THE International Police (Interpol) stepped up the heat against counterfeit items last week when assorted drugs worth about sh200m were impounded in nine districts.

Five tonnes of medicines were impounded after a sustained intelligence monitoring and operation by Interpol and the National Drug Authority (NDA) with support from the World Health Organisation led-taskforce (International Medical Products Anti Counterfeiting Taskforce.

One of the drugs, Chloroquine was found in a container labelled Quinine because Quinine is more expensive and would fetch the seller more money. But Chloroquine is no longer a recommended line of treatment for malaria.

The high cost of genuine drugs, especially the new malaria treatment line, which costs about $8 (about sh17,000) per dose or more, has not helped matters with the population resorting to cheap, fake and less effective alternatives.

"Fake anti-malarial drugs are believed to be a contributory factor in a significant number of tragedies in sub-Saharan Africa," read an NDA statement.

Counterfeit is a major threat to sustainable existence in East Africa because of the unfair competition they present to the makers of genuine goods who invest loads of money in brand building and marketing.

But counterfeiting drugs can mean a matter of life and death that is why there is a serious need by the authorities to hit- hard on its architects.

Another drug, Amodiaquine, captured in large quantities all contained the same batch number, but had different expiry dates.

The other highly-counterfeited drug, Co-trimoxale, commonly known as Septrin was found missing in a tin labelled Co-trimoxale. Instead, Panadol was in the tins. Patients suffering from HIV/AIDS also use Septrin before they can start on ARVs.

"So a person with HIV/AIDS is taking Panadol thinking it is Septrin," warned Muhammad Lukwago, the NDA inspector of drugs at the briefing at Interpol Kampala in Kololo.

Lukwago said most of the labelled containers' contents range from no drugs, different drug contents, expired drugs or totally different chemicals. That means unsuspecting public is exposed to these chemicals that experts warn can sometimes lead to death.

The other drugs that failed laboratory tests include Metakelfin tabs, Chloramphenicol injection and Quinine sulphate. Lumartem, Quinine injection Arco, and Duocotexcin are free drugs that were stolen from public stores in Kenya and Tanzania.

The latest operation was conducted in suburbs, slums and the deeper countryside in Kampala, Mukono, Lugazi, Jinja, Iganga, Tororo, Busia, Malaba and Mbale.

"They pick genuine labels and then go make replicates on Nkrumah Road (printing hub in city centre).

"For instance, they get a tin of genuine magnesium which costs about sh3,000 a tin and then they pluck off the magnesium label, use the tin to pack quinine which costs about sh80,000 and then sell to an unsuspecting public," explained David Nahamya, a drug inspector at NDA.

The boss of Interpol Uganda, Fred Kiyaga, said so far five people had been convicted and fined sh1m each for illegal possession of counterfeit drugs. They include Francis Erumbi, Francis Ojambo, Fred Odongo, Athieno and Catherine. Dan Tusubira who was arrested last week had the largest consignment in Banda near Kampala. He was making the counterfeits in his courtyard.

There are 38 other cases awaiting court decisions. Kiyaga said the exact locations of these drug shops and their proprietors would be exposed upon court convictions

"These people mostly operate in fringe areas where people are less suspicious like in Iganga especially on market days," said Kiyaga.

"One of the ways that the public can avoid buying these medicines some of which may be fatally dangerous is by buying drugs from strictly licensed outlets," advised NDA officials. The registered outlets have NDA licence certificates hanging on the walls.

Counterfeit medicinal products range from inactive, useless preparations to harmful, toxic substances and are often indistinguishable from the genuine product.



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