Benin sets a winning example in the fight against fake medicineOctober 14, 2019
The empty space on the left-hand corner of the counter standing in the middle of the shop run by Dadjè (not his real name) instantly catches the eye. It is the space where the medicine jars used to stand. “It’s quite a profitable business. My husband and I used to make a third of our income from it, but we’ve had to put an end to it now. The last series of arrests convinced us to stop,” explains Dadjè’s wife, who runs the general store with him.
For many years, people in Benin had easy access to all kinds of medication, no prescription required, the only problem being that most of it was counterfeit. “A whole range of illicit medicines were being sold, and widely consumed, from anti-malarial drugs to vermifuge, vitamins, antibiotics, painkillers and medication for high blood pressure,” says Ernet Gbaguidi, president of the association protecting consumer health, Bénin Santé et Survie du Consommateur. According to the estimates of various health organisations, between 40 and 70 per cent of the medication circulating in Africa is either fake or wrongly dosed.
They are, of course, badly made and harmful products, causing several million deaths every year. “These illegally sold medicines often have no active ingredient. Some of them cause stomach ulcers, kidney failure, toxic hepatitis and other unforeseeable symptoms,” he explains.
The Beninese government started to take serious measures to combat this lucrative trade in 2016. The launch of awareness-raising activities and encouraging international mobilisation to end the impunity enjoyed by the traffickers, dates back to 2009, with the Cotonou Declaration calling for action against fake medicines. The aim was to urge Africa’s health professionals and authorities to put words into action. Seven years went by before any concrete measures were taken.
Act 1 opened on 24 February 2017 with ‘Operation Pangea 9’ launched by the government of President Patrice Talon. According to official sources: “Over 80 tonnes of medicine were seized within the space of a few months, as compared with four tonnes in 2015.”
Around 100 fake medicines traders were also arrested. The seizures were staged across the country, in the main markets. The largest bust took place in February 2017 at Adjégounlè, known as the ‘open-air pharmacy’ of the huge Dantokpa market in Cotonou. Assan, who runs a domestic appliances business not far from there, told Equal Times: “We got to the market as usual that morning, when groups of uniformed men appeared, piling out of their vehicles. They blocked the exits just about everywhere and then started breaking up the stalls and gathering up the medicines. Little by little, they rounded up everyone identified as fake medicines traders or business owners. Access to this part of the market was closed off for several days.” Stalls selling a range of goods have since replaced the stands that used to sell fake medicines near Assan’s shop.
There is no…