In Benin, Tuesday, March 13 is expected the verdict of the case of Mohammed Atao, the MP accused of selling fake drugs. Counterfeit drugs cost the lives of nearly 100,000 Africans every year, according to the World Health Organization.
This Tuesday morning, Mohammed Atao will not be in court in Cotonou since he fled, but nine other defendants will be tried in this case. These include officials of major pharmaceutical companies in Benin, the National Agency for Drug Supply or the head of a department of the Ministry of Health. This trial, the first of such magnitude, is followed throughout the continent because despite the repeated alerts, the traffic of fake drugs continues to grow.
“We are overwhelmed, It is impossible to dissociate the falsification, the fake medicine, the bad supply circuit, the illegal practice of the profession of pharmacists… But all this contributes to obtain a product whose quality can not be guaranteed,” said Dr. Emilienne Yissibi Pola, Secretary General of the Order of Pharmacists of Cameroon.
According to WHO, one in 10 drugs worldwide is counterfeit. In Africa, this figure rises to 7 out of 10 drugs.
Yet the fight against this traffic has intensified following a certain awareness. Regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) have adopted common drug policies.
Customs cooperation has been put in place, some of which have had good results. Last June, for example, the World Customs Organization (WCO), in collaboration with 18 African countries, intercepted nearly 260 million illicit drugs.
“Most of these drugs come from India or China,” says Sandra Waynes, technical expert at the WCO. They enter Africa through major ports like Cotonou and are distributed throughout the continent. Customs seizures can be impressive but often useless because behind, the sanitary system does not follow. “The role of customs is to intercept these illicit drugs,” continues Sandra Waynes. Then they give them to the health authorities whose distribution it is their duty to prevent.
Normally, these fake medicines have to be destroyed, but sometimes they are returned on the pretext that these countries need medicines. What the authorities forget is that these drugs are dangerous.
Lack of political will and legal vacuum
African countries are chronically short of drugs. Policies are therefore cautious about slowing down distribution, not to mention situations where some, as in the case of Benin, are involved in trafficking.
“The drug is politicized, in my country, for example, every time there are seizures of fake medicines, there are pleas for the return of these products. Even NGOs participate. Some handle drugs without the presence of a health professional,” said Dr. Abdoulaye Keita of the order of pharmacists of Mali.
A lack of political will that results in a total legal vacuum. Most African countries, like the rest of the world, do not have specific legislation for the trafficking of fake medicines. “We can not even prosecute traffickers,” says Dr. Abdoulaye Keita. The illicit sale of drugs is not criminalized in Mali. Traffickers risk a few months in prison only.
To remedy this situation, the Council of Europe proposed in 2011 the signing of an international convention, termed ‘Medicrime’.” We are asking for an international general mobilization, recalls Professor Marc Gentilini, delegate to the Jacques Chirac Foundation for the fight against fake medicines. The customs, the police, the judges, the political authority, must have the means to enforce what is decided by the Medicrime Convention, that is to say that this crime is transformed into a crime and that this crime be punished as it should be.
Today only 27 countries in the world have signed Medicrime including three African countries: Morocco, Guinea and Burkina Faso.