Counterfeit drugs are a menace and a definite threat to global peace and stability. Inert drugs are being peddled on the drug market to an unassuming market with dire consequences. Entire communities are reeling from the vestiges of this phenomenon, while national systems remain reactive in dealing with this ever-escalating threat.
El Chapo Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, is being held in an American federal prison due to drug related issues. Pablo Escobar rose to prominence not because of his capabilities to solve issues to do with ARVs, but because of his abilities to proliferate the narco trade to unprecedented levels. The opium trade in Afghanistan is believed to be the fulcrum of terrorism in that historically difficult-to-implement-counterinsurgency country, while an estimated 30 people succumb to drug-related issues in Jakarta on a daily basis.
The article is not about drug lords, drug kingpins and the narco trade. The article is more concerned with the dangers posed by counterfeit vaccines in the fight against Covid-19 and how they amplify the threat to the national sovereignty and the integrity of Zimbabwe.
There has been a call to ensure that pharmacies are involved in the distribution chain of Covid-19 vaccines. The very same pharmacies stand accused of allowing prescriptive medicines to be used, or rather abused, for purposes that even the CID Drugs Section is yet to comprehensively appreciate.
The Zimbabwean drug regulatory framework is not only an environment that is lacking in innovative capabilities to be at the top of drug regulation, but is laden with ineptitude insofar as monitoring abuse is concerned. Expecting the same players to be arbiters of acquisition and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is just but synonymous with opening the path for counterfeit vaccines.
Our pharmacies are not only incapable of playing a supervisory role as regards the current medicines they supervise, but are structurally incapable of boosting public confidence about vaccines, if ever they are to be allowed to acquire and distribute Covid-19 vaccines. Just imagine buying the Sinopham vaccine in a pharmacy along the bustling streets of a big city, where, for instance, a perceived ghetto youth is angrily seeking to acquire bronco (BronCleer) to quench his insatiable appetite for drugs!
The Chinese authorities, from where Zimbabwe is reported to have acquired its Covid-19 vaccines, are said to have busted a fake vaccine syndicate, resulting in the arrest of 80 perpetrators.
Vaccination cards are believed to be the “passport” of travel moving forward, as global value chains, travel and tourism are to be rekindled in the short-to-medium term. The confidence, or lack of it, to be generated by having pharmacies acquire and distribute vaccines is astronomically inverse.
Our drug regulatory framework is pathetic to say the least. We, at this juncture, are failing to control the abuse of over-the-counter prescription cough syrups. We cannot afford to allow an already lost “public confidence battle” against Chinese drugs to be lost again.
The writer is informed that Covid-19 certificates from the country are being treated with disdain in other countries. They are being invalidated upon arrival. Negatively marked people are being confirmed to be positive when they arrive in countries wherever those certificates are needed. Already, this shows an inherent doubt in our pharmaceutical and by extension, drug industry.
This entails that, at the barest minimum, we must be protecting at least the integrity, if any, that still exists in our drug regulatory industry.
Without name-dropping, our drug regulatory authorities must be frank with the decision makers that our logistical chains are compromised enough at this point in time to be overburdened by the added weight of public diplomacy to do with supply and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. In short, our pharmacies must, in the interim, steer away from anything to do with Covid-19 vaccines, at least until a point when safety, efficacy and public confidence in the drugs is boosted.
Moving along the same spectrum, the government is seeking to attain herd immunity. In short, the government is seeking to ensure that 10 million people are vaccinated, from available evidence, with Sinopham, Sputnik V and Covax vaccines. Anti-vaxxers have been throwing all sorts of theories, either in total violation of, or in agreement with, the physics theory of simple harmonic motion.
Like a pendulum, they have been seizing on any blunder, misstep or malicious mistake occurring as a consequence of the rushed nature of these vaccines. The last thing people, and in this case the government, need, is to create the cobra effect where interventions aimed at making a situation better actually make it worse.
Anti-vaxxers are on the prowl. They are using all tools, tactics and methodologies to misinform, deceive and escalate the ongoing infodemic about vaccines. Vaccine warfare is real and actually these vaccines are being weaponised for geopolitical reasons. The government, authorities and public at large must strive to ensure that those who feed on conspiracy theories are not given the chance to mislead. These parasites feed on mistakes. They are not sophisticated but are alert enough to amplify negative vibes if ever they present themselves.
Naturally, the clarion call is upon the authorities to reduce, or minimise, the lack of clarity that has become synonymous with these vaccines.
Communication is the best tool to counter hoaxes. Propaganda can be neutralised by the truth whilst the threat of hoaxes can be defeated by reality. For people to be enlightened, they ought to be informed first. At present, they are enlightened to the availability of information but are not informed to the dangers posed by anti-vaccination information
Authorities must tighten their belts and embark upon a robust campaign to educate and inform the masses to ensure that bigots who thrive on misinforming and spreading malicious drivel about well-intended interventions are defeated.
Sapien is a trade and security analyst