ECOWAS Parliament Members Reaffirm Commitment to Fight Counterfeit Medicines

18 April 2017

Members of the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) parliament’s Committee on Health and Social Service and Committee on Trade, Customs and Free Movement held a joint session on 10-14 March to address the issue of fake medicines and discuss about potential ways for the parliament to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of ECOWAS’ policy on combating counterfeit medical products and expired products.

In an attempt to strengthen the visibility of efforts deployed by the regional economic community’s parliament, this joint committee meeting was “delocalised” and held in Monrovia, Liberia, a country where the problem of counterfeit drugs is particularly acute.

Both present at the meeting, Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf together with her Togolese counterpart Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé recognised the important work carried out by the ECOWAS parliament in combating fake and expired drugs in the region, while insisting on the need to do more to tackle the problem. Sirleaf, who is the current chairperson of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, will pass that chairmanship to Gnassingbé on 4 June 2017.

The joint committee adopted a resolution which calls on the regional body’s members states to launch a large scale investigation into counterfeit and expired medicines trafficking, sponsor a campaign against this illicit activity, and take all necessary steps to fight the proliferation of fake and poor-quality drugs in the region. The document also encourages ECOWAS member states to put in place a “community legislation” in this areas.

Strengthening efforts

ECOWAS’ Counterfeit Legal Directive defines a counterfeit medicine as a “a medical product, whether branded or generic, that is falsely labelled with respect to identity or source and includes a medical product without the correct active ingredient or with insufficient quantity or active ingredient with any misrepresentation in respect of the medical product.”

According to the International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), between 30 and 70 percent of the medicines sold on African markets are counterfeit products, depending on the country. A WHO survey conducted in 2011 found, for example, that 64 percent of antimalarial drugs imported in Nigeria were fake.

This has significant public health effects, as counterfeit drugs are often ineffective and can lead to dramatic consequences for patients. In a 2015 study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, for instance, researchers estimated that poor-quality antimalarials could be responsible for the death of more than 120,000 under-five children per year in sub-Saharan Africa.

The resolution adopted by the members of ECOWAS’ parliamentary joint committee underlines that counterfeit medicines “contribute to the increase of the rate of infection and as a result leads to the deaths of people,” while also depriving inventors, manufacturers, and governments from important financial revenues, which inhibits future research.

 “We are concerned that despite the close cooperation among drug companies, governments, international organizations concerned with trade, health, customs and exiles on counterfeiting, the prevalence of counterfeit drugs appears to be rising,” said Liberia’s Sirleaf to the parliamentarians gathered in Monrovia.

According to various participants speaking at the meeting, a mix of different factors is responsible for the proliferation of fake drugs in the region, including the porosity of borders, a lack of effective law enforcement, the influence of organised crimes, corrupt practices, weak collaboration between regulatory institutions and security agencies, as well as poor human and technical capacity.

In his remarks during the opening session, Emmanuel Nuquay, the speaker of the parliament’s house of representatives, called for the adoption of tougher sanctions against individuals engaged in illicit trafficking in counterfeit drugs. He also indicated that, according to a 2008 survey conducted by the West African Regional Health Program, Nigeria and Ghana were the two major hubs for counterfeit medicines trafficking in the region.

“Part of our role is to also strengthen the capacities of our relevant committees that have oversight on this subject matter and ensure that cooperation and collaboration is increased among the agencies of our respective governments responsible for the implementation of the envisioned ECOWAS Policy,” Nuquay added.

In a similar vein, Sirleaf insisted that succeeding in the fight against fake drugs trafficking “will require strict regulatory processes, inter-regional surveillance and monitoring systems, information sharing among ECOWAS Member States, capacity building and regulatory strengthening at both national and regional levels as well as an effective oversight of the pharmaceutical industry by national and regional parliamentarians.”

The resolution adopted by the joint committee will be forwarded to the plenary of the ECOWAS Parliament for adoption, and subsequently submitted to the member states’ heads of state.

ICTSD reporting. “Nigeria, Ghana, China, India Major Hub for Counterfeit Medicine – Nuquay,” Front Page Africa, 16 April 2017; “Ecowas Committee Urges Probe of Counterfeit Medical Products,” Liberia News Agency, 13 April 2017, “Ecowas Resolves to Fight Counterfeit, Expired Medicines,” The Daily Observer, 17 April 2017; “Presidents Sirleaf, Gnassingbé Hail ECOWAS Parliament,” The Daily Observer, 17 April 2017.

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