There is an ongoing issue with illegal pharmaceuticals which affects the whole world, but the impact is worst in developing countries. World Health Organisation statistics show that 120,000 people a year die in Africa as a result of counterfeit malaria drugs alone, illustrating the huge scale of the problem.
The WHO and other authorities have been waging a war against substandard, spurious, falsely labelled, falsified and counterfeit (SSFFC) medical products for many years, but this week in Monrovia, the Head of States and Government of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) have met to discuss the issue.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has spoken out at the Joint Committee on Health and Social Welfare, Trade, Customs, and the free movement of the ECOWAS Parliament, stating that these false drugs are not just causing more illness and deaths, but also having a negative effect on public confidence in medicines and the medical system as a whole. This is a bigger issue in remote communities, where even the most effective treatments can still be treated with caution and suspicion.
The President quoted a survey conducted in 2008 by the West African Regional Health Program, which found that 60% of pharmaceuticals in Liberia are SSFFC; Nigeria is said to account for approximately 60% of the value of illicit drugs in the sub-region, with Guinea also around 60%; Ivory Coast 30%, Sierra Leone 30% and Liberia at 15%. Weak regulation and fragile security systems are thought to be major factors in the problem.
The committee is meeting in order to agree a policy on these counterfeit medicines, and to ensure that all parties are involved in its implementation and continuation. Delocalised meetings will then be held across the regions to increase public awareness, and to ensure that the plans are brought to the local communities.