Loopholes Cartels Exploit to Siphon Millions from Govt

  • Counterfeit and substandard medicine has flooded the market in the wake of a growing rivalry between the National Quality Control Laboratory (NQCL) and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB).

    The two regulatory agencies, which fall under the Ministry of Health, are tasked with the mandate of making and importing pharmaceuticals into the country, the lucrative nature of which has birthed the current conflict.

    As the two bodies are lost in their coliseum, the task of importing drugs into the country has fallen into the hands of cartels looking to exploit the vacuum left in the pharmaceutical industry.

    Kenya's counterfeit industry brings cartels Ksh 20 million.

    The newly formed importing companies, one of which has been linked to a member of parliament, have fallen back on bribery to circumvent medicine standards provided by the World Health Organisation.

    An account provided by the Nation on February 15, 2020, detailed that a common drug for treating blood pressure, digoxin, which is meant to be sold in 0.5mg pills is instead available in 5mg tablets.

    A senior pharmacist at NQCL explained the danger of this, “If the 0.5 milligrams were supposed to reduce blood pressure from 200 to 120, the 5-milligram tablet, being 10 times stronger, could lower the pressure to 20, which kills a person instantly.”

    While the possibility of death is the extreme end of the stick, the flipside is the total ineffectiveness of some of the tablets currently available on the market.

    The situation, as explained by the pharmacist from NQCL, can be linked back to the fact that tablets are one part medicine and one part starch. The medicine usually takes up 5% to 10% with the starch forming the remaining percentage.

    However, as the cartels hold reign over the pharmaceutical market and regulation remains lax certain companies are packaging just the starch. The situation created, as stated by the pharmacist, is the equivalent of taking ugali to treat an illness.

    “A patient would think they are treating their condition whereas the “medicine” is just as good as eating ugali."

    A report authored by the Institute for Security Studies on January 8, 2020 questioned a move by President Kenyatta to withdraw medical inspectors from the Mombasa Port.

    The inspectors had been stationed at the port to curb the influx of counterfeit medicine into the country. This followed an alert issued by WHO on the presence of fake antibiotics in Kenya.

    Auditor General Edward Ouko addresses a past Institute of Internal Auditors of Kenya in Mombasa.

    A report by the Auditor-General provided that by the end of 2018, Kenya Medical Supplies Agency had supplied expired drugs worth 150 million to the country's regional hospitals.

    The counterfeit industry brings in Ksh 20 million for every Ksh 100,000 investment that goes into it as per the Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM). The big payoffs have been used to explain why the counterfeit industry is steadily growing.