Lawyers from around Africa gathered in Cameroon this week to call for tougher legislation against counterfeit medicine.
Sixty tons of counterfeit medicine was burned after being seized by customs officials in Cameroon, who say the stockpile had an estimated value of $80,000.
Customs official Marcel Kamgaing said the imitation medicine was being used to treat everything from diabetes and hypertension to cancer and erectile dysfunction. He said the forged drugs were destined for sale at shops and roadside pharmacies.
He says illicit drugs are very dangerous to the health of consumers and may even kill due to poor packaging and preservation. He says importers should be informed that Cameroon's customs laws give them the authority to destroy all fake drugs.
Counterfeit drugs conference
The burning was scheduled to coincide with an international conference this week in Yaounde on the problem of phony drugs in Africa.
Jackson Ngnie Kamga, president of the Cameroon Bar Association, says the current penalties are not enough of a deterrent. He said traffickers should face jail time.
He says because of its deadly consequences, it is high time for Cameroon to join African states to start considering the transportation and commercialization of bogus drugs as a major crime, not a simple offense punishable by fines and seizure of the illicit goods. He says the number of people who die because of such drugs makes them consider it another form of homicide, which the international community should help Africa tackle.
The World Health Organization says falsified medical products may contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient or the wrong amount of the correct active ingredient. The WHO says about 100,000 deaths-a-year in Africa are linked to counterfeit drugs.
Issouf Baadhio, an attorney from Burkina Faso, represented the International Association of Lawyers as its vice president. He said the counterfeit drugs are primarily manufactured in Asia, especially in China, and so African countries need to focus on stopping importation.
He says besides the fact that this trade is illegal, importing fake drugs has disastrous economic consequences and as such civil society organizations and professional groups like the International Association of Lawyers should join states and make sure that markets are protected and custom controls are set up at entrances to all states to detect and stop the sale of all dangerous drugs.
Identifying counterfeit medicines can be difficult. The WHO urges officials and consumers to look for signs like misspelled words on the packaging and to check that the manufacture and expiration dates inside and outside packaging match.