Step up the fight against illicit trade and counterfeiting

Columnists

Step up the fight against illicit trade and counterfeiting

Workers load cartons of counterfeit milk in a truck in Kisumu in January. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe, the focus and attention of innovative pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer has been an accelerated approach to discover vaccines and therapies that will be the only long-term solution to ending this pandemic.

The race against time is on and we are working collaboratively and around the clock to deliver safe and effective vaccines to the public. We believe science will ultimately prevail in finding a solution for humanity, but that society will also be faced with a grave danger – illicit trade.

While many of us work to find solutions to this crisis, to share legitimate information and encourage responsible behaviours to limit the spread of the virus, there are those in society who would use our collective fears to spread misinformation and profit unscrupulously through illicit trade such as counterfeit medicines.

We can already see signs of this global scourge in Covid-19 related medical products including testing kits and personal protective equipment.

Currently this is spreading to medicines being used to treat conditions related to Covid-19 as we await the long-term solutions therapies or vaccine.

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For governments and stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry, the need to tackle this menace has never been more urgent and with the scale of the current pandemic, illicit trade in pharmaceutical products could lead to another public health crisis if not appropriately addressed.

According to the Trade in Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Products report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union Intellectual Property Office, the value of global trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals was up to Sh440 billion ($4.4 billion) in 2016.

This represents 0.84 percent of total world-wide imports in pharmaceutical products and will most likely increase post Covid-19.

Counterfeit and sub-standard medicines pose a huge risk to patients’ health. From failure to treat diseases to causing unexpected adverse effects, the consequences of taking illegitimate medical products cannot be understated. To put this into perspective, World Health Organisation estimates show that between 72,000 and 169,000 children may die unnecessarily from pneumonia every year after receiving counterfeit drugs, and that fake anti-malarial medication may be responsible for an additional 116.000 deaths.

It is therefore clear that the infiltration of counterfeits into the market during this period would exacerbate a situation that is already dire by causing unnecessary deaths. For Kenya to address and manage the Covid-19 pandemic comprehensively, stakeholders must step up efforts in curbing illicit trade to reduce the incidences and keep the population safe.

Finally, illicit trade places a heavy cost on governments and citizens due to increased strains on health care systems forced to grapple with diseases which would have otherwise been eradicated by legitimate products.

It is time to initiate a public-private dialogue between the industry and the government to strengthen legislation and policy as well as enhance enforcement to address this global scourge once and for all.

The writer is Country Manager Pfizer Laboratories Ltd.

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