Sunday, March 20, 2016

Africa, Always a Victim

Africa is perhaps the poorest continent in the world. Stereotypically, the image of Africa implanted on our minds is a wide stretch of land where wild animals and human beings, those wearing bear skins and bearing man-made arrows and piercers, live together. The temperature may be a little humid for urbanized people to take. Families living below international poverty level are the government’s main problem and perhaps, the number of people who are illiterate is beyond any other nation. After all, Africa is known to produce slaves who were treated as animals in the earlier times. This impression may have been a lasting one derived from the stories from our ancestors. Even the pope recognizes how other nations have been victimizing Africa. 

In his visit in the continent in 2015, Pope Francis exclaimed, “Africa is a victim, Africa has always been exploited by other powers, African slaves were sold in America. There are powers that simply want to take Africa’s great riches – it is perhaps the world’s richest continent – but they do not think about helping countries to grow so that everyone can work. Africa is a martyr of exploitation…”

However, as times are changing and equality has been implemented, people are eventually accepting Africans, their potential and their capabilities. A large part of the continent has shown growth in urbanization in the last couple of years. According to reviews, one third of Africa’s population is currently living in urbanized areas. By 2020, experts expect this to grow to more than half of the citizens.

Africa, however, still continuously remains a victim to many other issues despite their potential for growth. One of these hindrances is the proliferation of drug counterfeits in the continent. 

In a review released by World Health Organization (WHO), fraud drugs do not entirely affect all parts of the world, despite its global nature. It is estimated that fake medicines account to 50% in Sub Saharan Africa but only 1% in developed countries. Perhaps this is also the reason why assistance expected from other countries often fall on deaf ears. The Peterson Group also reports lack of awareness even among government bodies.

Headed by pharmaceutical experts from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Jakarta, Indonesia, a seminar on the basics of this illegal practice was conducted in Nigeria last January 12, 2015 but these awareness programs will lay moot and academic if international and national policies are still inadequate or nonexistent. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fraudsters’ Tricks to Counterfeiting

For years, the authorities have applied different kinds of safety and protective measures to obliterate drug counterfeiting in the list of major issues in the world. The worsening proliferation of drug fraudulence has prompted the authorities to aggressively undertake the problem. Dozens of raid operations have already been held across continents just to pin down the group responsible. World Health Organization (WHO), different health ministries and Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) from different countries have already been on the watch along with Non-profit organizations such as the Peterson Group, Impact and others. But their task is far from simple. 

It is highly difficult to track counterfeiters — they might use several different planes to transit a single consignment. Batches are repackaged into smaller bundles at each stopover to thwart law enforcement agencies. In one case, the drug which was delivered to a customer in Nebraska through the internet was traced to have come from Toronto, Canada which had been moved from Dubai, smuggled from Jakarta, Indonesia and had been manufactured in China.

It is even more challenging to spot fakes from real ones. Counterfeiters seem to take extra effort into perfecting their packaging and product. Tiniest details including bar codes are even traced significantly from real ones that it can even pass code scanners.

While the battle is getting fiercer and the complaints increasing, specific countermeasures are being taken by the pharmaceutical industry which includes overt features, such as holograms, covert features, such as digital watermarks, and initiatives that track and trace products.

Just as suspected, counterfeit drugs are mostly available in black markets. In third world and poor countries, these black markets can be seen on the streets. In Africa and the Middle East, for instance, rows of kiosks show various medicines ranging from erectile dysfunction medicines to drugs claiming cure for cancer. However, the authorities cannot entirely take down street vendors as some of them are not entirely fraudulent. 

Michael Deats, a former head of enforcement at the MHRA, who now works for the WHO’s department of essential medicines and health products says, “Some pharmaceutical company sales representatives sell their wares in street markets to meet sales targets ‘which adds a certain legitimacy to these street-markets’”. Fraudsters take this chance to merge their own fake products with legitimate ones.

Drug counterfeiting is becoming a lucrative business and we can expect that the people behind this illegal practice are much more experienced in tricking the law than we can possibly imagine.