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Pharmaceutical lobby groups clash over drug imports

By Otiato Guguyu | June 30th 2018 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

An African-American hand holds three pills. (Courtesy)

Global players in pharmaceuticals are capitalising on the fear of fakes to crush competition from supply chains outside their control.

A scathing attack was launched on drugs meant for other countries that are being imported directly to Kenya avoiding the tight grip of multinational supply chains.

Known as grey products, some importers take advantage of countries with price controls on their drugs to get cheaper products instead of buying directly from manufacturers. However, these drugs are usually inscribed in the language of the intended market.

Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry issued a statement condemning all drugs which are not inscribed in English or Kiswahili.

“Grey products in the local market present a greater risk of deficiencies and poor efficacy due to potentially incorrect storage by middlemen packaging intended for other climates and language that are not understood in Kenya including Arabic, Turkish and German,” said Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (KAPI) Chair Dr Anastansia Nyalita said.

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High mark ups

Rival lobby, the Kenya Pharmaceutical Distribution Association (KPDA) has come out to complain about the alarmist claims saying that the products they import are genuine and brought into the country legally.

“Parallel importation is not the same as counterfeit goods and any public statement to that effect by any person casts a long shadow of doubt on their integrity as a spokesperson,” said KPDA Chair Dr Kamamia Murichu.

“Our products are traceable back to the source, the very same multinational corporations that now want to create cartels in Kenya.”

Mr Murichu said that multinational players were keen to maintain high mark ups since Kenya allows liberal pricing by blocking drugs from territories where prices are controlled.

“A customer came looking for Zytiga, a cancer drug that costs Sh250,000 per injection and is required every three weeks, I can supply the same drug from Turkey at Sh35,000,” Mr Murichu said. He said that the multinationals carry higher costs of paying their CEO’s and sales people for marketing and distribution which they pass over to consumers in significantly higher prices.

Not fake

This fight is not new, according to a task force created by the Registrar of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, trademark holders have been in a constant battle with distributors taking advantage of Section 58(2) of the IP Act through Parallel Importation to trade in branded pharmaceuticals.

“This situation not only precipitated acrimony and press wars, but also, threatened to create anarchy in the pharmaceutical industry and the smooth provision of health services to the public,” Dr Ronald Inyangala, chairman of the taskforce said.

Pharmacy and Poisons Board Deputy Director Fred Siyoi said that while language on the package does not mean that drugs are fake, the board prefers those with English so that consumers can know what they are taking.

“At the port we check whether the drugs are in English or Kiswahili but you can get those Iranian drugs being used which are donations for the Red Crescent for example,” Siyoi said.

He said that Kenya is a liberalised market allowing for different pricing even for the same brand.


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