After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor.
However, far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighborhood clinic made him far worse — eventually costing him one of his kidneys. The drugs were fake.
“After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly,” 52-year-old Hievi told reporters.
After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed to a university hospital in the West African nation’s capital, Lome.
“The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... The quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs,” Hievi said.
Now, more than four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to receive dialysis regularly.
Hievi’s horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines.
The WHO has estimated that every year about 100,000 people in Africa die from taking “falsified or substandard” medication.
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2015 estimated that 122,000 children younger than five died due to taking poor-quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.
Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel — and deadly — market.
Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide.
The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, experts said.
Bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient — they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries — the Republic of the Congo, the Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda — are to meet tomorrow in Lome to sign an agreement on criminalizing the trafficking of fake drugs.
The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.
However, even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge. Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across west Africa.
Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what is available in more reputable pharmacies, where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels.
“It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from,” said Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo’s pharmacist association.
“The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified,” Kpeto said.
It is estimated that between 30 percent and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake, and Kpeto said that most of it comes from China or India.
Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow. It changed the law in 2015, and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of about US$85,000.
In a show of force in July last year, authorities burned more than 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
However, even given these successes, those in the industry like Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves “highly organized criminal networks.”
The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 200 million people, is the No. 1 destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of the difficulties being faced.
In September 2016, the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports in Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria. Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits.
Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.
In 2017, Vivian Nwakah founded start-up Medsaf and raised US$1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user.
“The country doesn’t have a reliable and centralized distribution network,” she said. “A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?”
As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets, but also pharmacies and hospitals — both state and private.
Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses.
Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at more 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria, and hopes to expand deeper into Nigeria, as well as the Ivory Coast and Senegal.
The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications, and verifies their official registration number, expiry dates and storage conditions.
“Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs,” Nwakah said. “People die for nothing. We can change that.”
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory