Researchers from the University of Ottawa and the American Enterprise Institute are rooting for a law that would make counterfeiting medicine a crime against humanity under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Under the ICC statute, there are various crimes against humanity, which are, by their nature, committed by private criminal organisations as well as by countries.
Lead researcher John Drawley, from Ottawa University, termed those counterfeiting medicine and human drugs merchants of death who should be charged for crimes against humanity and severely punished.
Counterfeit drugs are completely different from generic drugs. Generics are inferior versions of the original drugs while counterfeits are illegal and dangerous drugs some of which are poisonous.
The push for a law to punish those counterfeiting medicine follows a study by Dr Drwaley and his team of scientists from the University of Ottawa and the American Enterprise Institute. The 2020 research looked at the dangers of counterfeit medicine on people’s lives and found them to be plenty and serious.
Locally, pharmacists have warned of the increasing cases of counterfeit medicine entering the market.
They say counterfeit drugs are manufactured or imported by criminals or groups cashing in on the rush for cheaper versions of expensive medicines. The researchers say those involved mainly target the drugs for treatment of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension.
Cartels are said to target popular original medicines such as painkillers used by many people on a daily basis and normally sold over the counter.
A survey conducted by the National Quality Control Laboratories (NQCL) and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) in 2018 found that a significant number of drugs and medicines in the market, (12 per cent), are counterfeits.
Results of a separate study conducted by independent institutions, the Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (KAPI) and Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK), Kenya Medical Association (KMA), and Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), found the number of fake drugs in the Kenyan market is even bigger than what the government agencies had suggested.
Findings of the study by KAPI, PSK, KMA and KAM found that up to 30 per cent of medicines and drugs in Kenya are fake, with a black market value of up to Sh15 billion.
“Fake drugs can cause harm and even cause death to the user. They can also lead to serious drug resistance,” says Dr Rupen Haria, a Nairobi-based pharmacist, who is the managing director of Harley’s Pharmaceutical.
Dr Haria says it is hard to identify fake drugs. “It would be less risky if people can buy medicines from registered pharmacies only,” he says.
While most of the counterfeits are imported from China, Pakistan and India, reports indicate that some medicines are being altered locally in ordinary households, small cottage industries and individual home backyards.
There are fears that some of the drugs on sale are no more than just water and chalk.
Dr Haria says anti-counterfeit laws should be stricter than what the case currently is. “The laws should be enforced strictly. More resources should also be channelled towards post-surveillance and regular testing of drugs to ensure quality and safety.”
Vinod Guptan, the CEO of MedSource Group, said the health sector is incurring a lot of losses because of the counterfeits. The government also loses a lot of money in taxes because of the illegal trading of fake drugs.
Pharmacist Paul Njoroge says the Anti-counterfeit Act that came into force in 2009 is too lenient on offenders. The Act prescribes a five-year imprisonment for a first offender and a fine equal to three times the value of the fake drugs.