Counterfeit drugs sink local industry

The influx of counterfeit drugs into the country is threatening the operations of local pharmaceutical companies and endangering the lives of consumers.

Local pharmaceutical industries have to compete with cheap counterfeit drugs in the Over the Counter (OTC) segment — like paracetamol, aspirin, anti-malarials, antibiotics and vitamins — which has been a preserve of local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies for many years.

The Board Chairman of pharmaceutical manufacturer Starwin Products Company Limited, Dr. Mensah Otabil, in an interview with B&FT said the biggest problem facing the pharmaceutical industry is the influx of illegal pharmaceutical products and the cost of imported raw materials, exacerbated by high taxes.

Mr. Thomas Amedzro, the Head of Drugs Post-Market Surveillance Unit of the Food and Drugs Board, said 70% of pharmaceutical needs are imported, particularly from south eastern Asian countries and especially India, while local manufacturers complement it with 30% of the required need.

This, unfortunately, has left the country vulnerable to the influx of counterfeit drugs which threaten to cripple local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies.

Additionally, 40% of the pharmaceutical products on the market are of good quality while 60% are sub-standard.

“It is difficult to estimate the amount of illegal drugs that come into the country. The two designated entry points for imported pharmaceutical products are the Tema Harbour and Kotoka International Airport. Once the importer has the permit and the scanner shows they are pharmaceutical products, we perform random checks,” Mr. Amedzro said.

He noted that it is difficult to estimate the level of counterfeit drugs in the system due to the difficulty in checking every imported container for illegal pharmaceutical products.

“It is difficult to take down every container and check for illegal drugs; you will spend days, and there is no place for detention. The main problem is not with counterfeit drugs but sub-standard products on the market.”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PMAG) has warned that pharmaceutical products on the market which are not certified by the Food and Drugs Board (FDB) pose a threat to the health of consumers and growth of the industry in the country.

A limit or ban on imported pharmaceutical products appears a long-shot as local pharmaceutical companies, according to the FDB, cannot meet the demand on a consistent basis due to their limited capacity.

The problem of limited capacity, according to Mr. Amedzro, is the reason the FDB turned down an approach by PMAG to expand the reserved drug base of local manufacturers.

“Antibiotics are the largest prescribed medication on the books of the Ghana Health Service. A ban cannot be placed on such important medication. After an audit of supply-lines of local pharmaceutical companies, it was realised that they cannot meet the demand on a consistent basis.”

He stressed the need for government to empower local pharmaceutical industries through measures such as the granting of long-term concessionary loans, and the granting of tax rebates to make them competitive.

Under the industrial policy of the government, presented in the budget statement and economic policy for the 2011 financial year, government’s focus for this year is to drive industrial production and distribution, technology and innovation as a means of implementing its industrial policy.

Industrial players have called for a sector-specific initiative to help strengthen local pharmaceutical companies.

Mr. Kwasi Yirenkyi, CEO of Starwin, said the problem of illegal drugs, cost of raw materials, and high cost of credit to the sector is making it difficult for local companies to increase their capacity and be competitive.