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Fake medicines are a dangerous threat in Africa: 3 ways to spot them

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Fake medicines are a dangerous threat in Africa: 3 ways to spot them

You start getting a headache after a long day. Taking two painkillers from the street vendor is sufficient for you. However, how can you be sure that these pills are safe to take? There is no pharmacy associated with the vendor. An ingredient list or dosage instructions are not included in the package insert. What if you just took counterfeit medication for your headache?

Prof David Katerere, Research Platform Chair for Pharmaceutical and Biotech Advancement in Africa (PBA2).

Fake medicines are a dangerous threat in Africa

Medicines that have been deliberately falsified or mislabeled are known as counterfeit medicines. The FDA will not approve substandard or falsified medicines because they failed to meet quality measurements and standards. The difference between them and generic medicines is that generic medicines are cheaper, but still have been scientifically proven to be equally effective and safe.

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Among the most common fake medicines are painkillers, antibiotics for treating infection, antimalarials, antiretrovirals, sexual stimulants, and weight loss medications. Counterfeit medicines are a major problem in many African countries.

There is a high prevalence of substandard medicines in many developing countries, according to research. There have been reports of fake antimalarials in some African markets, for instance. Across sub-Saharan Africa, malaria deaths are caused by ineffective medicines.

Providing people with unreliable or improperly made medicine is obviously dangerous. There are over 250,000 deaths caused by these medicines every year around the world. It is estimated that over 300 children have died in the past year as a result of ingesting counterfeit cough syrups or pain relievers.

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The government is working on strengthening its surveillance of counterfeit medicines. Many African countries, for instance, train pharmacists to detect such medicines and possible infiltration into the supply chain of medicines. In addition, they will be able to better share information with their patients and detect fake medicines.

3 ways to spot them

The most important aspect of safe medicine usage, however, is educating patients. To identify expired medicines and other identifying markers visually, consumers must know how to inspect them. In the event of an emergency, being able to differentiate between a genuine medicine and a fake one can be the difference between life and death.

According to my experience as a pharmaceutical expert, follow these steps to identify a fake pharmaceutical product.

Buy your medicines from legitimate places

To begin with, be sure to buy your medicines from licensed retail shops, pharmacies, and dispensaries. The licenses of such establishments need to be displayed on their walls. Medicine handling is taught to pharmacists and their assistants. Those in charge of medicines under their control are legally and ethically responsible for them. This means they’ll source products through formal medicine channels which are less likely to be infiltrated by fakes.

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A pharmacovigilance system monitors the safety of medicines in the country with the help of pharmaceutical industry personnel. There are reports of serious side effects and injuries caused by medicines that can be picked up and reported by this device. Fake medicines can be removed with the help of this system.

Online pharmacies should not be used to buy medicines. Generally, online pharmacies are illegal in African countries. The pharmacy should also have a physical presence in the country for it to be considered legitimate. Several studies have shown that counterfeit goods are prevalent on the internet, since most traders operate outside national borders and are not subject to national laws governing medicine quality and handling.

It may seem cheaper to buy medicines from unregulated markets, but the risk is extremely high.

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Inspect your product

Visually inspect the packaging of the medicine before taking it.

Besides the product name, the manufacturer’s name and address should be shown on the label, as well as the date of expiration. You can trace the manufacture of the product if possible by checking the batch number, which is a serial code.

Match the packaging with the previous one if it’s a product you’ve used before. When you use the product often, take a picture of it for comparison in the future.

Make sure the product is intact

Ensure the medication is intact by opening the package. It is possible to package tablets in blisters, for instance. Verify that the blisters are untampered with and that the seal hasn’t been broken. Each blister must display the product’s name and expiration date.

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Make sure the product is packaged as loose tablets or capsules in a bottle, dispenser, or other container, and that there are no obvious discolorations, mottling’s, chips, or mold.

It is acceptable for pills to have some powder residue on the bottom, but not too much. There could be a problem with the compression of the tablets. If there is a smell, such as vinegar, it should not be present. There should be no cracks, clumps, or stickiness on the capsules.

Liquids consumed orally are more difficult to assess, but a bad odour, industrial smell, or petrol-like smell indicate poor quality. Pouring the liquid into a spoon should be easy and smooth with no clumps or solid particles. When dispensing or using liquids, make sure the bottle is well sealed to prevent mould or bacteria from growing.

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Within a month, dispose of any remaining dose. If antibiotics have not been finished within seven days of opening, they should be thrown away.

When you’ve spotted a fake

You should report poor-quality or fake medicine to the clinic, pharmacy or national medicine regulator if you suspect it is of poor quality. There is a national medicine regulatory authority in every country in Africa, either as an independent agency or as part of the health ministry.

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