It is a sunny Monday at the busy Kariakoo market. As usual business activities are going on as usual. Rehema Said 30, is in front of the counter at a certain pharmacy ready to buy her medication for flu as prescribed by her doctor.
Rehema is among ten other people randomly interviewed by Your Health on whether they can tell if medication is fake, which places are trusted to get right medication and what to do one reacts badly to the medication.
None of the people had answers to these questions.
Among the more than 12 pharmacies which were surveyed in Kariakoo alarmingly none of the pharmacists knew about the availability of fake drugs on the market. And none of them could tell what makes a drug fake.
This poses a question, how safe are when it comes to the right medication that we are prescribed as laymen?
Just recently the Tanzania Medicines and Medical Devices Authority (TMDA) identified seven types of fake essential drugs on the market worth Sh12million.
This came to light during the official inspection by TMDA in collaboration with the President’s Office, Regional Administration and Local Government (TAMISEMI) and Pharmacy Council Tanzania.
The acting TMDA Director-general Akida Khea, says the inspection was conducted between October 8-11 in twenty regions and 33 districts as part of TMDA protocol with the aim of assessing the quality of drugs and medical equipment in the country.
“It is our job to assess the quality of medication on the market to make sure users and suppliers are on the right track,” says Akida.
The fake medications unearthed include Gentrisone Cream 10gm batch number GNTRO X030, the medication had no active pharmaceutical ingredients which are Betamethasone Proprionate, Clotrimazole and Gentamycin sulfate.
Other medications are Augmentin 625mg batch number 786627, Cold caps capsule, Sulphadoxine Pyrimethamine (SP) used in the treatment of Malaria or preventing a pregnant woman from getting Malaria. Other drugs are Sonadem Cream 10gm, ALPRIM, Homidium Chloride and TEMEVAC NDV strain 1 and 2.
Asked on how can laymen distinguish real from fake medicines, Akida says, it is not easy just by looking but experts have to conduct investigations.
However, one can tell if she or he has been given fake medicines if they respond differently to the medicines, only if they have had the chance to use the medication before.
“It is very challenging to tell that certain medication is fake and it is not only Tanzania which facing this problem.
This is a Global problem and telling exactly where the fake medications are coming from is very difficult.
Tight monitoring and controls have to be put in place at all ports of entry to stop fake drugs and medicines from getting into the country,” says Akida.
According to the recent report by TMDA, fake medicines and medical supplies which were not registered were removed from the market as a way of protecting the public.
The report further states, the private pharmacies which had medicines with government labels were in the hands of the police.
Shamimu Majaliwa, 32, a city resident and a mother of two says, her daughter Patricia 8 has an allergy. She was advised by the doctor to use Alerid tablets to help her whenever allergy starts.
A year ago her daughter’s body got swollen for close to half an hour after taking her medication.
According to Shamimu, that was the first time her daughter had reacted badly to her medication. She called her doctor who suggested for her daughter to be taken to the hospital for a check-up and were told to bring the reminder of the medication she had used.
“Upon our arrival at the hospital my daughter was given an injection to filter poison from her body.
Two days later the doctor informed me the medication was fake, that was the reason my daughter had reacted badly,” says Majaliwa.
Dr Julius Twoli based in Bagamoyo says, fake drugs come with a lot of health complications.
He says, fake medicines can cause some side effects that are normally absent in authentic medicines.
He urged patients to be wary of symptoms like muscle weakness, depression, ringing in the ears, hair loss, stomach pain, skin peeling etc.
He says, it is important for people to buy medications from the pharmacies which are registered.
“The government should continue with frequent inspection as a way of stopping people from distributing fake drugs on the market,” says Twoli.
Petronida Petro is a primary teacher in Kimanga says during her pregnancy two years ago she experienced skin peeling three days after using Sulfadoxine Pyrimethamine that are used to prevent a pregnant woman from getting Malaria during pregnancy.
She says the pain was so unbearable that she had to go back to the hospital and was given an injection to ease her pain.
Thankfully the bad medicine did not affect her unborn baby.
“Until today I don’t know what exactly happened to me but I still remember the sharp pain.
Now with the availability of fake drugs on market maybe the SP I was given was fake.
Dr. Living Colman a gynaecologist at Muhimbili National Hospital says, women are advised to take up to three different doses for malaria prevention, (SP)
He says, it has been reported that some women who use SP can experience nausea, dizziness, vomiting and this happens mostly during the first dose.
He thinks pregnant women are safe as SP are only being given at legitimate health centres during antenatal care.
“With SP I think pregnant women are safe as they don’t buy the medication in the pharmacy,” says Colman.
Adding to that he says it is important for pregnant women to ask their doctors which pharmacies are registered for them to buy medication from.