As the novel coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the globe, pharmaceutical companies have put much effort on the search for a vaccine.
The drug firms, which are being pushed by their governments, have made a core realisation: a vaccine will be the only long-term solution to ending this pandemic.
The race against time is on. We in the pharmaceutical industry are working around the clock to deliver safe and effective vaccines to the public.
We believe science will ultimately prevail in finding a solution for humanity. We are only worried about one big hindrance in our quest to serve society – illicit trade.
While many of us work hard to find solutions to this crisis, striving to share legitimate information and encouraging responsible behaviors to limit the spread of the virus, there are those among us who would use our collective fears to spread misinformation.
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They only intend to profit unscrupulously through illicit trade such as counterfeit medicines. We can already see signs of this global scourge in Covid-19 related medical products including testing kits and personal protective equipment.
Currently, this is spreading to medicines being used to treat conditions related to Covid-19, as we await a long-term solution in the form of a vaccine.
For governments and stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry, the need to tackle this menace has never been more urgent.
With the scale of the current pandemic, illicit trade in pharmaceutical products could lead to another public health crisis if not appropriately addressed.
According to the Trade in Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Products Report (March 2020) published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and adopted by the European Union Intellectual Property Office, the value of global trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals hit Sh440 billion ($4.4 billion) in 2016.
This represents 0.84 per cent of total world-wide imports in pharmaceutical products; it will most likely increase in the post-Covid-19 era.
Counterfeit and sub-standard medicines pose a huge risk to patients’ health. From failure to treat diseases to causing unexpected adverse effects, the consequences of taking illegitimate medical products cannot be understated.
To put this into perspective, estimates show that between 72,000 and 169,000 children may die unnecessarily from pneumonia every year after receiving counterfeit drugs.
Fake anti-malarial medication may be responsible for an additional 116 000 deaths according to the World Health Organisation(WHO).
It is therefore clear that the infiltration of counterfeits into the market during this period would exacerbate a situation that is already dire by causing unnecessary deaths. For Kenya to address and manage the Covid-19 pandemic comprehensively, stakeholders must step up efforts in curbing illicit trade to reduce the incidences and keep the population safe.
It is time to initiate a public-private dialogue between the industry and the government to strengthen legislation as well as enhance enforcement to address this global scourge.
-The writer is Country Manager – Pfizer Laboratories Ltd