Tanzania imports over 70 percent of drugs sold to patients, which creates loopholes for fake medicines to find their way into the country, the government has stated.
President Jakaya Kikwete made this observation while officiating at the start of the Pharmacists’ Week at Serena Inn in the city yesterday, noting that the country imports 72 percent of drugs owing to low production of local industries.
“We have only six pharmaceutical industries in the country whose output does not satisfy market needs,” the president said.
In a speech read on his behalf by Minister of Health and Social Welfare Dr Hussein Mwinyi, the president said that in order to attract investors, the government has started improving the investment environment in the drugs sector by removing some tax requirements at the start.
About 30 per cent of drugs in the market are considered to be of lower than acceptable standards of critical curative compounds, otherwise known as fake drugs,oin the basis of data circulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Tanzania alone cannot deal with the fake drugs challenge, but in efforts to reach that goal the government has formed a special team comprising the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) and the police force to deal with the problem,” the president underlined.
President Kikwete warned the public against dishonest pharmacists who collaborate with dealers to import fake drugs, urging pharmacists to refuse price cutting methods that tarnish their good image before the public.
Pharmacists, he said, should volunteer to serve the community diligently and not wait until the Pharmacists’ Week is marked to bring up awareness about dangers of using fake drugs.
The president said the government is aware of challenges that face pharmacists and promised to work hand in hand with the relevant organs to address the issues.
The Pharmacists’ Society of Tanzania (PST) Patron, Dr Reginald Mengi, said sellers of fake drugs should be charged as suspects of manslaughter, noting that numerous deaths occur each year when a patient puts all hope in a dose, or series of doses, while applying fake drugs on a dangerous ailment.
For that reason, such sellers should be accused of the result of their actions just like other suspects of murder or manslaughter, similarly urging that measures should be taken to identify sources of fake drugs in countries of origin, more often India and China.
Other channels could then be sought to curb the importation of such drugs. Dr Mengi said poor knowledge about drugs in both urban and rural areas is a key contributing factor to patients misusing prescribed drugs or failing to notice fake drugs.
He urged the government to engage the pharmacists in seeking to resolve the problems facing them, as many of the problems are perennial complaints that have remained unaddressed. PST President Elizabeth Shekalaghe said that the number of pharmacists has risen from eight in 1967 when the association was established, this year to around 900 at present.
The absence of a pharmaceutical department in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare was another factor blocking efforts to solve problem by engaging with the ministry, she said.
The low number of pharmacists across the country, along with a poor working environment, the insufficient capacity of local production of drugs and seepage of fake drugs in the market are obstacles PST has to confront on a daily basis, she said.
PST plans to re-launch its campaign of creating public awareness on drug use and storage in different parts of the country, to avoid suspicious sources of prescription drugs.
She said the civic body has decided to conduct the campaign following good results obtained after visiting 350 households in Dar es Salaam, Dodoma and Mwanza regions to take a sample of the likely response to the effort.