Tremendous health risks involvedMedicine smuggling needs attention [Archives:2004/718/Health]

March 8 2004

By Dr. Abdo M. Shidiwa
For The Yemen Times

The smuggling phenomenon in general and the smuggling of medicine, in particular, are considered to be recent phenomena in Yemen. With the exception of some incidents used to take place in several regions situated on the land and marine boundaries of the countries mainly for consumer goods not available in one side and not in the other.
The smuggling activities and the smuggled goods concentrated on some clothes and shoes from Egypt and Syria and some gold and watches from the Gulf countries.
The smuggling of medicine phenomenon began in mid of the 1980s. It was first limited to individual's activities (suitcases' of merchants). Ministry of Health and the Drugs Authority allowed the importation of medicine through authorized agents with sales prices printed on each brand of medicine.
The high financial losses risks associated with medicine, if not properly packed, transported or stored and the validity period for safe use of medicine on humans, taking into consideration that drugs consist of mostly chemical substances which could be transformed from a specific cure to the cause of dangerous illnesses when the predefined conditions and requirement are not fully met, discouraged the smugglers from smuggling medicine and thus had limited their activities to the smuggling of other stuff, in the 1970s and first half of the 1980s.
Moreover, the reasonable stability of the local currency depreciation before the foreign currencies, accompanied by the low prices of drugs imposed by the drugs authority in comparison to neighboring countries, the smuggling of medicine did not look like a lucrative business.
Then the value of the local currency began plummeting before the foreign currencies. The drugs authorities did not react to the increase in prices of drugs, but rather stood still and instead continued to impose the official price lists with unrealistic rate of the US dollar when the actual rate of the dollar in the market was nearly a double.
This situation forced the authorized agents to drop importing some drugs including some life saving and essential for the cancer, heart patients and diabetics. The smuggling of medicine started to be of interest and profitable to those previously involved in the business of importing medicine, particularly to the opportunists who had been monitoring the market to determine what essential drugs, in great need and demand but not available in the market place.
The smuggling of medicine became feasible to newcomers and to even the other smugglers in other trades.
The smuggling of medicine flourished and reached new extents motivated by the passive reaction of health and drugs authorities which remained to impose the out of date prince lists. Crippled with other factors surfaced due to political, economic and social conditions made the smuggling of medicine easy and profitable and instant making profits business.
The followings are some of the reasons, which have led to the continuation of the phenomenon of smuggling until today:
1- The low value of the local currency before major foreign currencies.
2- Inadequate interest and reaction of the health and drugs authorities and the failure to sense the danger and to have considered medicine to be just as important as food commodities which needed to be also subsided during that period.
3- The pertinacity of Ministry of Health and the Drugs Authorities to continue to impose price lists using official unrealistic rate of the US dollar in comparison with actual US dollar rate in the market, instead of seeking practical solutions.
4- The drop of some vital drugs by the authorized agents due to disputes erupted between the local agents and the manufacturing companies on who would bear the gap between the official rate of the dollar and its higher value in the market.
5- The dwindling role of the drugs company which used to cover 60% of local market consumption for the same above reason.
6- The state's mentality that medicine was just not very important issue to seriously take into enough consideration.
7- The relatively easy entry of smuggled medicine through customs at land and marine border points and the slight punishment for possession of smuggled medicine.
8- The sharp shortages of vital medicines available in the market place.
9- The absence of coordination between the health authorities and Customs.
10- Easy and quick profits from the smuggling of medicine, which was not available but was in great need and demand.
11- The neglected role of the health authorities in order to find out what was going on in the market place.
12- The absent role of the media in dealing with the phenomenon of smuggling of medicine.

There is no doubt that it is very obvious that issue of smuggling in general and the smuggling of medicine in particular should be considered national issues, which require finding suitable means and solutions to confront it.

The harm of smuggled medicine
A. In the health side
Since most of if not all of the smuggled medicines are not properly manufactured in terms of attention, quality and suitable conditions, they are susceptible to be transformed into harmful drugs.
The lack of appropriate means for packing, storing and transporting associated with the operation of smuggling of medicines, the users of these medicines could encounter serious illness instead of the cure they were hoping to get from them.

B. In the social and economic side
Expansion the scope of smuggling of medicine will usually be on the count of those legally involved in the trade of medicines. It will lead to increase of unemployment and creating a portion of society depending on illegal means as sources of income which will become very difficult to treat once this problem is widespread in the society. The great losses of foreign currency when many smuggled spoiled and expired drugs are confiscated from the market and destroyed. The loss of revenues, which could have been collected as customs tariffs. The reduction of level of expertise among the national cadre due to the expansion of smuggling circle.
Smuggling of Medicine – Reasons- Effects and Solutions

How to curtail smuggling
1- Provide all drugs through official means, including vital medicines from viable sources with reasonable and various prices according it resources.
2- Grant more facilities related the followed procedures to register drugs at the Drugs Authority and Ministry of Health and to focus on the technical specifications to ensure quality and not on the increase of registration fees which only adds more burden on the consumer.
3- Encourage local authorized importers to import essential drugs and to make studies on the feasibility to manufactured these drugs locally.
4- Activate the monitoring authorities in both in the market place and in the manufacturing of drugs companies.
5- Involve the media in the awareness campaign on the dangers involved with the use of smuggled medicines. And to show examples of side effects resulted from use of smuggled drugs.
6- Hold regular lectures and seminars and hosting those interested in the field of health at the local, regional and international level.
7- Lay down plans suitable for the treatment of the current solution and to find practical solutions for those depending solely on occupation of smuggling.
8- Enact legislative laws and regulations, which are logical and practical and can be implemented in real situations.
9- Form a council from the related authorities (Health, Customs, Interior and Taxes Authorities) to draw suitable plans to totally eliminate the smuggling phenomenon with the coordination of related authorities of the neighboring countries where exchanged information and expertise to can adopted to achieve the goal.
10- Activate the role of the drugs authorities especially in the field of monitoring and following up on the quality of imported medicines and the locally manufactured ones.