Unregulated medicine putting lives at risk in Kenya

Wednesday July 12 2017

A Kenya Revenue Authority official displays counterfeit Amoxil drugs. PHOTO | FILE

A Kenya Revenue Authority official displays counterfeit Amoxil drugs. Counterfeit medicine are ineffective in treating illnesses. PHOTO | FILE 

By MARYANNE GICOBI
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About eight per cent of medical drugs in Kenya enter the country through unregulated channels, putting lives at risk, a new report has revealed.

An investigation by the Kenya Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry (KAPI) and the University of Nairobi’s School of Pharmacy says most of this medicine’s product packaging is intended for other climates and is labelled in languages that are not commonly used in Kenya like Arabic, Turkish and German.

“Such products pose a grave danger to the patients  as their efficacy and quality remains questionable,” said KAPI chairperson, Anastasia Nyalita.

The investigation was conducted in eight counties and reviewed nine popular medicine brands. The team of researchers posed as regular clients, visiting 326 pharmacies and bought 543 samples. A total 41 of the 543 samples had entered Kenya irregularly and most of these products were found in Nairobi and Nakuru counties.

Ineffective drugs lead to increased healthcare costs due to repeat consultations, change of prescription, loss of earnings due to sickness and in some cases hospitalisation due to continued treatment.

In 2016, it is estimated the Kenya may have lost Ksh5 million ($50,000) in income from the nine products included in the survey alone.

Regionally, it is estimated that counterfeit products cost East African governments more than $500 million in lost tax revenue annually.

The head of University of Nairobi’s school of pharmacy Prof Anastasia Guantai and the principal investigator Joel Lehmann from Infospective Research Ltd said the sale of bad drugs in Kenya is real and confirmed that among the sample size, the most affected was a product used to treat high blood pressure.

“Medicine against high blood pressure is sold in large quantities in Kenya as it is used for a period of time, these products are therefore more vulnerable to questionable business practices,” reads the review of the study.

KAPI is asking the Pharmacy and Poisons Board to fully utilise digital technologies to track shipments and identify gray products to ensure that all products available in the Kenyan market are regulated.