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Cameroon Seizes Fake Coronavirus Drugs Sold by Scammers

FILE - Medical staff at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute in Marseille show tablets containing chloroquine and tablets containing hydroxychloroquine, Feb. 26, 2020.

Cameroon has seized fake chloroquine from at least 300 pharmacies and hospitals as people rush to obtain the anti-malaria drug in the unproven belief it can stop the coronavirus.

Anatole Lobe, manager of Saint Martins Health Care, a private hospital in Yaounde, says he now buys chloroquine only from officially recognized and trusted pharmacies, since the government announced that a counterfeit product had been found in hospitals and pharmacies throughout the country.

Rose Abondo Ngono Mballa, director general of Cameroon's National Drug Quality Control and Valuation Laboratory, says the fake drugs are hurting patients trying to recover from malaria.

Cameroon was notified March 9 by the World Health Organization of the circulation of counterfeit anti-malaria drugs in its territory and in neighboring Chad and Nigeria, Mballa says. Since then, hundreds of doctors and nurses from pharmacies and hospitals in Cameroon have complained that their patients were not responding to anti-malaria treatment and that they doubted the quality of chloroquine supplied to hospitals and pharmacies.

FILE - People wear masks to protect against the COVID-19 coronavirus as they walk by the entrance to the Yaounde General Hospital in Yaounde, March 6, 2020.
FILE - People wear masks to protect against the COVID-19 coronavirus as they walk by the entrance to the Yaounde General Hospital in Yaounde, March 6, 2020.

Mballa says her laboratory discovered that most of what was sold as chloroquine was a mixture of chalk and water.

The rush for chloroquine began after French researchers announced that half of 14 coronavirus patients who underwent therapy with the anti-malaria drug got better, and U.S President Donald Trump referred to it as a potential cure for the raging virus.

Other researchers say much more testing is needed to make sure the drug is effective and safe to use.

Meanwhile, Cameroon's government announced Wednesday that it had sealed two pharmaceutical companies and arrested seven staff members who were producing the counterfeit drugs in the western town of Bafoussam. The government also said some of the fake chloroquine was imported from Nigeria.

Local media recently reported that a boat smuggling more than 100,000 tablets of fake chloroquine from Nigeria was intercepted by Cameroon's military.

The government has not confirmed that report. But Yaou Zachary Aladji, the top health official in the Adamawa administrative unit, which shares a boundary with Nigeria, warns the public to beware.

Three laboratories have confirmed that alcohol mixed with water is being served in many shops and public offices with claims that it disinfects against coronavirus, he said, stressing that the product cannot prevent COVID-19.

Cameroon's first case of coronavirus was confirmed February 9. Since then, there have been 306 cases of the virus, and eight deaths.