Imitation drugs: A threat to society [Archives:2004/743/Health]

June 3 2004

Ismail Al-Ghabiri
The subject of medicine, its usage, and monitoring of the flow of various drugs into the country has become one of the hottest issues in Yemen.
The Yemeni markets represent huge opportunities for locally and imported drugs, whether of genuinely good quality or simply imitations.
Nowadays, the discussion of this issue has become a matter of live and death for many Yemeni citizens, and the issue of imitation drugs must take a good portion of the valuable time of experts and concerned authorities. This issue, however, has not received the required attention it deserves. Only strange stories are narrated about the handling and importation of drugs, some of which are vital to the situation of a sick patient. Some importers of medicine are not even closely connected to the pharmaceutical or drugs profession.
Most of the campaigns to reduce the phenomenon of smuggling imitation and ineffective drugs and to confiscate these drugs usually end up only in the collecting of some money by those carrying out the campaigns as bribes and leaving imitation drugs for hopeless citizens to take in desperation to obtain some relief from them regardless of their ineffectiveness most of the time. Many citizens end up buying them because they can afford them, and at many pharmacies, pharmacists know which drugs are genuine and which are imitations and when to hide them or distribute them back to the market, in case of scheduled campaigns by the health authority to confiscate these drugs. They also know who would take bribes from and who would not. It is a flourishing business for both.
The reasons for the smuggling of medicines are the fast profit, the unavailability of major drugs in the markets, and the poor approach of the state to handling the issue of medicine. Medicine is not considered a major substance that requires the full support of the state, it is only considered as a secondary issue leading the widespread smuggling of medicines.
Recent studies have disclosed that many of illnesses in Yemen are caused by imitation and smuggled drugs, such as the kidney failure, immune system failure, and cancer. Many antibiotic medicines use or bear less potent ingredients, consequently leading to new symptoms instead of treating previous ones.
Academics emphasize that the health inspections of the drugs available in the markets must be spontaneous, by inspectors who are concerned with the health of the public in general and not only opportunists concerned with the situation of their pockets and personal gains. The campaign against smuggled and imitation drugs must be done collectively in coordination with the Ministry of Health and authorized importers of drugs. The problem of smuggled and imitation drugs remains an issue that requires the collective efforts of governmental and non-governmental authorities with the assistant of the citizens.