Medication smuggling ho is responsible? [Archives:2007/1014/Health]

January 8 2007

Rowaida Al-Saqqaf
For Yemen Times

A new study on medicines in the Yemeni markets revealed that 37 to 50 percent of medicines are smuggled. The study, conducted by the manager of sales in Al-Rafa Foundation for Medicines Dr. Ali Al-Dowa, said that a large amount of drugs that unofficially enter the Yemeni markets are spoiled and ineffective. Of course this study is not the first one warning of fake medications that threaten the economy as well as people's lives. The authorities such as Ministry of Health, Supreme Drugs Authority, Customhouse and even medicinal agents still exchange the accusations of who take the responsibility behind the spread of drug smuggling.

“Pharmaceutical agents in Yemen do not have the capability to guarantee a constant supply of medications to the Yemeni markets and that encourages smugglers. At the same time, the concerned authorities do not create radical solutions such as compelling the agents to provide these medications all year,” said medicine agent Dr. Nasser Ahmed Nasser, explaining the reasons behind the spread of smuggled medication in Yemen. Nasser blamed the securities, particularly those in the boundaries, confirming that there are many influential men involved in the smuggling process. Dr. Sami Al-Baw'ani agreed with Nasser, adding that these medications are easily entering the country through the customhouse “which only imposes fines, no other punishment, in case they seized these medications. Not to mention the briberies will be paid to disregard.”

“Some powerful men cooperated with unconcerned medication traders who exploit the difficult economic circumstances that most patients live in and sell these medications at low prices to gain fast profits. They also exploit the patient's need to some medications not available in the Yemeni market and where are no substitution of these medication,” said Al-Baw'ani.

Smuggled medication mostly does not contain the effective constituents to fight disease, even if the medication is not faked, the smuggling and storing process expose these medications to spoil, according to Al-baw'ani.

In this regard Dr. Riadh Abdulmawla said that the danger of smuggled medicine lies in the fact that these medicines come from an unknown source and nobody knows if it is genuine.

“Much of such medication have been adulterated and could be fatal,” noted Abdulmawla. “Unfortunately the normal Yemeni citizen cannot recognize between the smuggled medication and the original one. Sometimes even the pharmacist cannot distinguish between them, as some faked medications look similar the original one in its shape and the agent seal.”

Medicinal companies are involved

According to some health experts, smuggled medicines mainly enter the country from the Horn of Africa, particularly Djibouti, from where they are brought by sea to the Yemeni coast. Yemen spends over $115 million yearly on medicines. Most of this is spent on imported medicines from 50 countries through 400 importers, as the local pharmaceutical plants only produce just over 15 percent of Yemen's requirements.

Most poor Yemeni patients, however, tend to use the cheapest medicine and it lead them to the contraband medicines. It affects the medicinal business in Yemen directly, and some known medicinal companies and agents now buy huge amounts of the contraband medication and put their company seal on the product before remarketing these medications.

Nasser says that a visit to any pharmacy can show the consumer that a lot of the medication is illegal.

But Dr. Mohammed Abdulmughni stressed that agent companies are not involved in smuggling drugs to the country and “there are in Yemen 35 medicinal agents, each one has its reputation so all of them are supposed to compete to gain citizens' trust.”

Death bottle or drug bottle

According to health workers most of the smuggled drugs have not been tested in laboratories and, if they are genuine, have often passed their expiry dates. Additionally, they seldom meet international standards for proper storage.

“Those medicines are being stored in miserable and unhealthy climates and environments, so they lose effectiveness at least or become very poisonous,” Al-Dowa's study mentioned.

But even armed with these facts, Adel Mahub, who suffers diabetes, confessed that he resorts to using smuggled insulin because “many times we can't find the insulin in the pharmacies so we turn to any source to provide us with this medication even by smuggling.”

Anther patient said that he does not care about the source of the medication and thanked those who bring him cheaper medicine because “it is a humanitarian service offered by smugglers.”

Nasser thinks along the same lines saying, ” I agree with this sentence. I can't blame the smugglers because they offer humanitarian service maybe I want to thank some of them who save some patients' lives I blamed those who smuggle medications to gain profits.”

Whereas Abdulmughni corrected this sentence in his point of view saying, “Drug smugglers are giving a devil service in drug bottle.”

However Al-Baw'ani has different view saying, “Medication traders in Yemen have no knowledge of pharmaceuticals so there are no different between the drug trader and the yogurt trader so in principle there is no common between trader, humanitarian, and medication. Ministry of Health is the first responsible in this problem.”

Customs and medicine authority

Many accusations were directed to the Customhouse which is considered the official authority observing the terrestrial, marine and aerial passages. An official in Customhouse refused to publish his name confirmed that they are playing its role in the light of its given authority and according to the laws and regulations which fight all kinds of smuggling including medicine smuggling.

“Last March, five tons of smuggled medications were destroyed in Al-Azrqeen wasteland. These medications were seized in some stores in the municipality,” said the authority. “Moreover we seized a vehicle carrying a large amount of smuggled medications including 37 medicinal types. Including medications for children, and cosmetics.” He noted that most of these medications were expired

“To fight such phenomenon we need to all support and efforts of officials and private sectors to get positive results. We need a certain time plan by which we can restrict all the medications stores and pharmacies whose owners sell the smuggled, expired drugs. This plan also should include all the Yemeni governorates,” he said.

An official in Supreme Drugs Authority, who also refused to give his name, said that the authority dose not directly monitor the medications that enter the country.

“The role of the authority, at the borders, comes only when Customhouse or securities ask its advice about these medications,” he said, adding that the authority tried to treat this phenomenon by finding confident medicine producers whether they are local, Arabic or European.

“The contraband medications in the Yemeni market form 60 to 70 percent, but the situation is better now with the issue of Price Medication Resolution. Our goal now is to distinguish between the faked and the imported medications by approving certain signs, agents names, register number, and price,” he concluded.