Counterfeit medication a growing headache

Counterfeit medication seized during a recent operation. Some items seized included cosmetic products and food. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

The recent efforts by the Buffalo City Municipality (BCM) and its stakeholders to assure safety and compliance in local stores have revealed a rise in counterfeit medication.

Medication that are intentionally and fraudulently altered or mislabelled are considered counterfeit. They are medication that have failed to meet the quality measurements and standards set by pharmaceutical regulatory bodies.

The BCM and its stakeholders, which include both governmental and non-governmental organisations, have partnered in an effort to stop illegal conduct and maintain public safety. Let Us Find Them, an organisation that deals with missing person identification and other social issues, is one of the stakeholders present during the enforcement operations.

Lonwabo Yiliwe, the CEO of Let Us Find Us, told I’solezwe lesiXhosa that the medication seized around Buffalo City was valued at roughly R1.2 million. He stated that the medications seized included painkillers, antibiotics, and prohibited medications such as ointment.

Some of the items seized during a recent operation. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

“Medication is only sold in pharmacies not in spaza shops or in the street. These outlets receive this medication from highjacked trucks, or some are counterfeit medication. Legit suppliers are contacted by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA) if any medication implicate their brand,” said Yiliwe.

Food was seized in addition to the medication. Stores that were discovered to be operating without a business license or in violation of health and safety regulations were fined.

The research platform chair for pharmaceutical and biotech advancement in Africa (PBA2) at Tshwane University of Technology, Professor David Katerere, stated in a report that the widespread use of counterfeit medicine is a major issue in many African countries.

“Research has shown many developing countries have a high prevalence of substandard medicines. For example, up to 88.4% of antimalarials in some African markets have been reported as fake. Using ineffective medicines causes between 64 000 and 158 000 deaths from malaria every year in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Giving people medicine that won’t work or isn’t made properly is dangerous. More than 250 000 children worldwide die from these medicines each year. In the past year more than 300 children died after ingesting counterfeit cough or pain syrups,” said Katerere.

The general public is encouraged to purchase medication from retail establishments, pharmacies, and clinics that are licensed, and they are additionally reminded to check for these establishments’ licenses on their walls.

Yiliwe urged people to call SAHPRA at 012 501 0300 or his organisation (Let Us Find Them) at 087 711 1149 if they wish to report counterfeit medication.