Last Friday, the Global Health Fund and science and technology company, Merck, donated a mobile compact lab to the Ministry of Health (MOH) to use it to detect or identify counterfeit medicines before they can be distributed to the larger population.
These medicines and drugs pose a serious threat to public health and can result in incurable diseases. This lab came at a time when Interpol estimates that up to 30% of all medicines in Africa are either counterfeit or are of inferior quality.
In Botswana, the government recently resolved to allow patients to acquire drugs from pharmacies in events where such prescribed drugs are not available in government hospitals. Obviously, this has attracted the attention and interest of unscrupulous characters, bogus drug manufacturers, and suppliers to intensify their efforts to get a share of the ‘cake’. The effects of globalisation and open borders cannot be reversed, but we can put measures in place to fight some of them. It is therefore a welcome development that some private companies are helping in fighting some of these social ills.
The government, on the other hand, should help the situation by coming up or updating legislation to strengthen punitive measures against perpetrators. For instance, the law that governs drug distributors in Botswana should make it automatic that any individual found in possession of, and distributing such drugs should lose their licences.
Government should also intensify training of its personnel to avoid wrong prescription of drugs for patients. This problem is getting common in this country, where patients are prescribed wrong drugs but no action ever taken against the concerned health practitioners. The same problem spreads to surgeries that go wrong, but the concerned surgeons are allowed to continue practising.
The government should set up an independent authority where patients can lodge complaints against hospitals and health service providers, and such complaints are thoroughly investigated and action is taken against offenders. We are fully aware of the existence of the Botswana Health Practitioners Council (BHPC), which monitors the activities of health practitioners, but very little is known about this organisation.
We have the Botswana Telecommunications Regulation Authority, Non Banking Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority, Botswana Unified Revenue Service, Competition Authority, Botswana Qualifications Authority, which are independent of government and empowered to take action against offenders in their respective sectors. BHPC should be empowered to a level of these organisations and should be able to approach courts to interdict and even ban an individual from practising in Botswana. They should also be able to revoke licences of offenders.
We are living in a challenging era of greed and disregard for human lives, particularly in Africa. where laws are weak; authorities are also trying to gather as much wealth for themselves as possible; and corruption of civil servants are at shocking levels. We have to fight counterfeit drugs in order to achieve a healthy and productive nation.
“The Judiciary must be strengthened and released from political interference.”
– Aung San Suu Kyi