COUNTERFEIT drug syndicates are flooding the Zimbabwe market with consignments of fake anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), expired medicines and sex enhancers, putting the lives of thousands of people at risk, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
A snap survey this week showed syndicates, taking advantage of drug shortages in public hospitals, are suppying the country with fake medicines from countries such as Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa while some are smuggled from as far as Asia.
The drugs, some of them contaminated, diluted or fake, are being sold in unlicensed locations such as flea markets, hairdressing salons, houses and even workplaces, in the face of growing shortages at clinics.
About 100 000 deaths a year in Africa are linked to the counterfeit drug trade, according to the World Health Organisation.
Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe spokesperson Richard Rukwata this week confirmed counterfeit drugs are entering the market.
“The authority does receive reports of the sale of medicines from unlicensed premises by unlicensed persons and always encourages members of the public to refrain from purchasing medicines from such places,” Rukwata said.
“The medicines could be counterfeited, meaning that they might not have the correct active ingredient, or may have too much of it; therefore there is the risk of overdose. Some of them may not have any active ingredient at all, therefore money will be wasted buying them since the so-called medicines would not have any curative effect.”
He said people selling the medicines are not trained in the use and administration of medicines and may claim that the medicines work for a particular condition when in fact they are meant for other conditions.
This, Rukwata said, effectively means the medicines become as dangerous as poison since they would be used for conditions they were not meant for.
A 40-year-old Harare man, who preferred anonymity, said many men are now buying sex enhancers from unlicensed dealers for about US$1 per tablet.
“We call them bullets or ammunition and they are easily available on the market,” he said.
He also said some of the women selling vegetables also sell the medicines while others openly peddle the fake drugs.
Drugs such as viagra and “choa jimengnan super-powerful man tablet” are the most commonly used by those seeking to enhance their sexual prowess.
Experts claim some of the drugs contain yohimbine, an alkaloid obtained from the bark of a West African tree, which increases blood flow throughout the body and can cause serious stress to the heart in men with heart or vascular problems.
Other supplements contain hormones like testosterone that can contribute to health complications, such as enlargement of the prostate gland or an increased incidence of prostate cancer.
The production and marketing of counterfeit drugs has become a lucrative global network generating huge amounts of money at the cost of many lives, especially in developing countries.