The World Health Organisation has confirmed many Kenyans’ worst fears — that they could be taking fake antibiotics, doing more harm to their bodies. The bottle or pack of Augmentin you have carefully stored in your kitchen cabinet could be fake, the WHO has warned.
Augmentin (usually a combination of amoxicillin and clavulanic acid) is a common antibiotic used to treat a number of bacterial infections and is listed on the WHO Essential Medicines List as an access group antibiotic.
The WHO has warned that anyone who has the drug, listed in its bulletin as Augmentin (Amoxicillin trihydrate — Potassium clavulanate), batch number 786627 manufactured by SmithKline Beecham Limited, should not use it.
“If you have taken this falsified medical product, or if you suffer an adverse event or an unexpected lack of efficacy, please seek immediate advice from a qualified healthcare professional, and ensure they report the incident to your Ministry of Health,” said the WHO warning.
In the alert contained in its latest bulletin, the international health agency warned that the numerous trips to the chemist to get the drug that is easily bought over-the-counter could be useless after it was found to be counterfeit.
The same version of the antibiotic sold in Uganda was also found to have been falsified. The WHO says the fake drugs were discovered through routine post-marketing surveillance, which tested the quality of medical products in the market.
It then informed the Kenya Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), as well as the Uganda National Drug Authority, about its findings.
“It should be noted that this is the second WHO medical product alert issued on falsified Augmentin in the African region,” the agency said. It said that tests in the quality assurance laboratory revealed that the drug did not have any of the stated active ingredients.
There were also some inconsistencies in labelling and packaging of the drugs. But Smithkline Beecham has denied manufacturing the falsified version. And no adverse reactions have been reported to WHO.
This is not the first time WHO is issuing such a warning. It first issued an alert on the circulation of fake antibiotics on March 2.
The country’s drug regulator Wednesday contradicted the WHO warning, saying that since November last year, there have been no fake versions of the drug in the Kenyan market.
“Post-market surveillance conducted through a rapid results initiative by the board and the Ministry of Health in November confirmed there was no more falsified Augmentin in the Kenyan market,” said PPB’s Chief Executive Officer Fred Siyoi.
On Wednesday, Dr Siyoi said the drug regulator was aware of the warning, claiming the WHO alert was based on information relayed by the PPB.
“Earlier in October (2018), the board’s surveillance system had received reports regarding the falsified Augmentin and undertook investigations, which led to the arrest and arraignment of a suspect in court, whose case is ongoing,” he said in a statement to newsrooms.
Antibiotics are often used to treat and prevent bacterial infections, and are considered a marvel because of the way they revolutionised modern medicine.
In Kenya, for instance, they are routinely prescribed for infections they do not treat, or for which they are not needed. If you have children, they will most likely be vaccinated against some of the most dreaded diseases, and your kitchen cabinet has one or two syrups for the baby — just in case.
Drug-resistant infections already account for an estimated 700,000 deaths every year. If no action is taken, they are expected to kill 10 million people annually by 2050. Antibiotics are key to preventing both pre- and post-surgery infection.
For instance, in Kenya, three in every 10 births are through caesarean section, during which antibiotics are used to protect the mother and baby. Also, since most cancer treatments suppress the patient's resistance to infections, antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals help to keep them alive as they receive cancer care.
Antibiotics play a crucial curative role in the health sector, but some are now failing to do what they were designed to do, and scientists, researchers and international health bodies are worried.