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Illegal Medicines: Desperate Patients Taking Fake Drugs to Survive

Harare  –  Desperate patients failing to pay for exorbitant medical bills are resorting to acquiring medicines through the black market or ...

Harare – Desperate patients failing to pay for exorbitant medical bills are resorting to acquiring medicines through the black market or without proper prescriptions, thereby risking their lives.

Zimbabwe health institutions faces a dire drug shortage, while some doctors are denying plastic money for services rendered as the cash shortage persists, leaving patients without options but to opt for the illicit market or unscrupulous pharmacies to obtain medicines.

Derick Matsengarwodzi 
Due to high cost of drugs, dodgy dealers have located a ready market by manipulating porous border entry posts to smuggle large quantities of medicines and anti-biotic drugs into the country, destined for the black market.

Counterfeit medicines increase health risk complications and WHO says more than 120 000 people die every year in Africa due to fake anti-malarial drugs. Peddling of fake drugs or unregistered drugs attracts a 20-year jail term in Zimbabwe.
Fake Medicines have Flooded the Streets of Zimbabwe

Under cover
Skin lightening creams, birth control pills and Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs top the illicit marketplace list. Zimbabwe has a high consumption of ARVs to accommodate patients on treatment, hence the peaking demand.

Cough syrups, mainly Broncleer are also smuggled by truckers from South Africa for consumption by addicts. Hordes of abusers are seen taking the illicit drugs in drug havens dotted around the country.

“Selling cough syrup has become a source of livelihood for my family. I understand the risk of the drugs to users but it is the only way I can feed my family despite the constant brush with the police,” said Diana, a known cough syrup peddler in Harare.

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) has cautioned people against purchasing counterfeit drugs, without a doctor’s consent.

“The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe has noted with concern the illegal importation of Over the Counter (OTC) medicines without the prior approval of the authority. OTC medicines are those medicines that can be bought in a pharmacy or any other retail outlet without a prescription,” reads the statement in part.

Pharmacies selling prescription drugs risk arrest but that has not deterred them due to high competition posed by illegal dealers coupled with depressed sales.

“We have witnessed low sales in drugs due to high costs and the influx of counterfeit drugs on the market. Many of the patients cannot afford hospital fees and purchase drugs after getting a prescription as hospitals have no stocks,” a local pharmacist, Gerald Mutasa said.

Law enforcement
Despite the flooding of imitation drugs, the government remains resolute to save lives from counterfeit drugs.

“That is criminal and anyone caught selling such drugs will be prosecuted and immediately lose their licences. We will work with police and see how best such practice can be contained,” said Dr Paul Chimedza, the Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care,

“Zimbabweans should also not be gullible to buy anything that is sold on the black market. HIV treatment is complicated and needs doctors’ assistance,” Chimedza added.

The police in collaboration with MCAZ have vowed to eliminate any loopholes used as conduits for drugs into the country.

“We are focusing on pharmaceutical crimes and police will arrest all people found in possession of drugs without proper registration,” revealed police spokesperson, Charity Charamba. - 

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