YAOUNDÉ - Authorities in Cameroon say the coronavirus pandemic has led to a spike in excessive drinking – and in deaths from fake alcohol. Consumer groups protested on Monday, saying authorities need to do more to crack down on both counterfeit alcohol and medicine.
Hundreds of people came out on Monday to watch the seizure of what authorities allege are “fake whiskies” from Elig-Edzoa market in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde.
Officials of Cameroon’s ministry of trade, customs and the police were cracking down on fake alcohol to mark World Consumer Rights Day.
Pauline Biloua is member of the Cameroon National Consumers Council, the government’s consumer protection body. She said thousands of fake alcoholic drinks have been seized from at least 200 shops and 350 bars across Cameroon within the past month.
She said since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Cameroon in March 2020, many people have lost their jobs and are now extremely poor. Consumers who can no longer afford to buy good quality whiskies now purchase fake locally brewed alcoholic drinks which are dangerous to health, she said. Many people have developed liver problems and died from consuming fake whiskies, she added.
Meanwhile, several dozen people took part in a protest Tuesday against the sale of fake and counterfeit goods.
Delor Magellan Kamseu Kamgain is president of Cameroon’s National Consumers League. He said he organized the protest because the government is still not doing enough to protect consumers.
He said poverty caused by the coronavirus is pushing most Cameroonians to go out for cheap products. Kamgain said unfortunately for consumers, the government has allowed fake and counterfeit products including medicines and whiskies that are highly consumed in Cameroon to be sold publicly. He said all that a consumer organization like his can do is to educate and sensitize people on the risks civilians are exposed to when they consume goods of doubtful origin.
Cameroon’s Medical Council says about three-fourths of the 7,500 deaths from liver problems in Cameroon in 2020 were due to the consumption of fake alcohol.
The police said some products are made from pure ethanol or with alcohol bought or stolen from pharmacies and hospitals.
Fake drugs are another problem. The government said about 380 people died of fake drugs in Cameroon in 2020, up from 223 in 2019.
The government said the true numbers are probably higher because fewer than 30 percent of civilians visit hospitals. Some buy roadside drugs and others prefer African traditional medicine.
Trade minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana said he has ordered a crackdown on all the fake drugs and alcohol.
He said he has ordered investigations on the origin of all fake drugs and whiskies circulating in Cameroon. He said he has asked the police to immediately seize all fake goods in the market. He said customs officers have been asked to protect the border so that fake goods should not be smuggled into Cameroon.
Atangana said Cameroonians should report people suspected of producing or selling fake goods to the nearest police station.