Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WHO Names Kenya as Safe Haven for Fake Drug Cartels

World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that the Kenyan market for counterfeit, expired, diverted and otherwise illegal medicines is around $130m and propagated by weak border controls and cartels-believed to include Health Ministry Officials.

George Omondi and Mwangi Muiruri in Business Daily Africa, write an excellent article about a recent World Health Organization newsletter report describing Kenya as a “safe haven” for counterfeit drugs.

Included in the Business Daily Africa story:

Kenya is a safe haven for a cartel that has choked the domestic market with counterfeit and untested medicine smuggled through informal channels, the World Health Organization has said, warning that the country could incur huge costs in mitigating the side effects of the drugs.

The value of both genuine and fake medicines sold illegally to unsuspecting consumers is roughly $130 million annually, says the organization in its October newsletter.

• The value includes drugs donated by international agencies, those stolen from hospitals and expired or fake ones made by backstreet firms and routinely smuggled in through East Africa’s porous borders.

The cartel — believed to include senior Health ministry officials— runs a complex web of informal trade, spanning the five East African Community countries, DR Congo and Southern Sudan.

• The rogue merchants, who devise elaborate schemes to disguise their activities, are aggressive and smart, according to WHO, which blames the menace on weaknesses in border controls. “They (cartel) establish fictitious front companies and use falsified documents to exploit weaknesses in border control as governments reduce border inspections to encourage free trade,” WHO says in the Newsletter.

The concern over drugs safety comes just weeks after local pharmaceutical producers complained of frequent theft of narcotics in their premises by what they termed “ well co-ordinated cartels.” Drug companies are allowed to buy narcotics which they use as raw materials in making medicines under the strict watch of regulators.

• “This has become a well co-ordinated business because in most cases, we realise that up to five pharmaceutical companies have been raided and all their narcotics stolen in one night without any clue for arrests,” said a manager at one of the local pharmaceutical firms, which cannot be named for security reasons.

The raids have sparked widespread fears over the authenticity of drugs sold over the counters and hospitals with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), the government agency that regulates the sale of medicines, saying yesterday it had issued strict cross-border trade rules to tighten the noose on the cartels.

• The board’s head of pharmacovigilance department, which tracks the movement of drugs, Dr Jayesh Pandit, said the recent designation and gazettement of all entry and exit points for drugs would push the cartels out of business. “Our instruction to all regulatory and law enforcement agencies in the region is that any drug that is not inspected and cleared at the designated points should be confiscated immediately,” he said, adding that the international community had taken long in stamping out the cartels because of “too much” focus on infringement of intellectual property rights of big pharma, loss of monopoly or financial losses.

• “Unfortunately, lesser attention is given to the number of lives lost, number of severe drug reactions experienced and the morbidity associated with the murderous trade of counterfeiting,” said Dr Pandit

While disturbing, unfortunately this article and WHO report is not surprising.

Much like the more infamous illegal drug cartels in Central and South America, these bogus drug criminal organizations exact a tremendous amount of influence within small countries. The return on investment in fake medications is significantly higher than nearly all criminal endeavours. Populations will continue to be at risk as long as law enforcement and the legitimate supply chain allow these crooks to poison their consumers.

Hopefully this type of story will stimulate the pharmaceutical supply chain and average health care consumer in developed countries to become more engaged in pharmaceutical supply chain safety.

To read the entire Business Daily Africa article, visit: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate%20News/WHO%20names%20Kenya%20as%20safe%20haven%20for%20fake%20drug%20cartels/-/539550/1050938/-/jud3flz/-/

To learn about pharmaceutical supply chain safety solutions, visit: http://www.xstreamsystems.net/

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