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Thousands of Africans Fatally Affected Due To Fake Drugs

In Ivory Coast, many cannot afford to shop in pharmacies.

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Drugs, Africa
A street vendor sells illegal and false drugs in a street of Adjame in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. VOA
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When Moustapha Dieng came down with stomach pains one day last month he did the sensible thing and went to a doctor in his hometown of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, Africa.

The doctor prescribed a malaria treatment but the medicine cost too much for Dieng, a 30-year-old tailor, so he went to an unlicensed street vendor for pills on the cheap.

“It was too expensive at the pharmacy. I was forced to buy street drugs as they are less expensive,” he said. Within days he was hospitalized — sickened by the very drugs that were supposed to cure him.

Africa
Able Ekissi, an inspector at the health ministry, told Reuters the seized goods. Pixabay

Tens of thousands of people in Africa die each year because of fake and counterfeit medication, an E.U.-funded report released on Tuesday said. The drugs are mainly made in China but also in India, Paraguay, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

Almost half the fake and low-quality medicines reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) between 2013 and 2017 were found to be in sub-Saharan Africa, said the report, also backed by Interpol and the Institute for Security Studies.

“Counterfeiters prey on poorer countries more than their richer counterparts, with up to 30 times greater penetration of fakes in the supply chain,” said the report.

Substandard or fake anti-malarials cause the deaths of between 64,000 and 158,000 people per year in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

Africa
Opiates have some of the most cases of addiction due to their accessibility and intense ‘high’ – mostly beginning from something as simple as painkillers.

The counterfeit drug market is worth around $200 billion worldwide annually, WHO says, making it the most lucrative trade of illegally copied goods. Its impact has been devastating.

Nigeria said more than 80 children were killed in 2009 by a teething syrup tainted with a chemical normally used in engine coolant and blamed for causing kidney failure.

For Dieng, the cost can be measured in more than simple suffering. The night in hospital cost him more than double what he would have paid had he bought the drugs the doctor ordered.

“After taking those drugs, the provenance of which we don’t know, he came back with new symptoms … All this had aggravated his condition,” said nurse Jules Raesse, who treated Dieng when he stayed at the clinic last month.

Fake drugs also threaten a thriving pharmaceutical sector in several African countries.

Africa
Misuse of antibiotic drugs have lead to the threat of antimicrobial resistance, Pixabay

That has helped prompt Ivory Coast – where fake drugs were also sold openly – to crack down on the trade, estimated at $30 billion by Reuters last year.

Ivorian authorities said last month they had seized almost 400 tonnes of fake medicine over the past two years.

Able Ekissi, an inspector at the health ministry, told Reuters the seized goods, had they been sold to consumers, would have represented a loss to the legitimate pharmaceutical industry of more than $170 million.

“They are reputed to be cheaper, but at best they are ineffective and at worst toxic,” Abderrahmane Chakibi, Managing Director of French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi’s sub-Saharan Africa branch.

Also Read: Trump Presents Proposal To Lower the Price of Specific Drugs

But in Ivory Coast, many cannot afford to shop in pharmacies, which often only stock expensive drugs imported from France, rather than cheaper generics from places like India.

“When you have no means you are forced to go out onto the street,” said Barakissa Cherik, a pharmacist in Ivory Coast’s lagoon-side commercial capital Abidjan. (VOA)

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Journalists Around The World Faced Intimidation and Prison in 2018: Report

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year.

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Khashoggi, U.S., Jail
A man holds a poster showing images of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (L), dubbed "assassin," and of journalist writer Jamal Khashoggi, dubbed "martyr," during a prayer service for Khashoggi, in Istanbul, Turkey. VOA

A multipronged crackdown on the press continued throughout 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists concludes in a report published Thursday.

Imprisonment, intimidation and allegations that journalists produce “fake news” surged in 2016, when U.S. President Donald Trump won the election, CPJ found.

Trump has been a vocal critic of the press, often chastising journalists as “very dishonest people.”

The number of journalists in jail dipped 8 percent, from 272 in 2017 to 251 this year. But that doesn’t mean the situation has improved, Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, told VOA.

The numbers fluctuate and may not reflect every imprisoned journalist. They also remain markedly higher than just a half decade ago.

ethiopian PM, Jail
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct. 29, 2018. VOA+

More importantly, targeting a single journalist can have far-reaching repercussions.

“The effects are not only, obviously, [on] the journalists themselves and their families and their colleagues, but we really are talking about the effect on citizens as a whole,” Quintal said.

CPJ’s report highlighted several bright spots.

In Ethiopia, which has experienced dramatic reforms under new leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, for the first time in 14 years.

Improvements in some countries, however, don’t necessarily rub off on others.

“Unfortunately, neighboring Eritrea remains the highest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists in jail as we speak,” Quintal said.

Worldwide, report author Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, singled out China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as troublespots, highlighting how wide-ranging efforts to silence journalists have become.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Quintal’s region of focus, Cameroon, where seven journalists are in jail, is a new country of concern. At least four of those journalists faced false news charges in what Quintal called “a huge, huge setback.”

Times, Jail
Jamal Khashoggi on the cover of Times as the ‘Person of they Year”

Overall, more than two dozen journalists have been charged with publishing false news, mainly in Africa.

Accusations and imprisonments can propel self-censorship, with profound effects on citizens’ right to information.

“When you see your colleagues being put in jail, when you see them accused of so-called fake news, when they’re being arrested on false news charges,” Quintal said, “it does, obviously, have a chilling effect.”

Quintal herself was targeted, along with colleague Muthoki Mumo, in Tanzania last month.

Despite having an invitation letter from the Media Council of Tanzania, the two, both former journalists, were detained and interrogated.

Quintal, from South Africa, and Mumo, from Kenya, were kept in custody for five hours.

“We were lucky because we were able to leave Tanzania,” Quintal said, contrasting her experience to journalists in the country who have gone missing or continue to face intimidation.

jamal Khashoggi, trump, jail
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

“The abusive nature of what happened to us showed the world the true nature of what is going on in Tanzania at the moment,” she added.

Quintal and Mumo’s case was unusual. Governments tend to target their own citizens, and journalists imprisoned by their governments make up 98 percent of cases, CPJ concluded. They also found that 13 percent of journalists in jail are women, an 8 percent increase from 2017.

Despite worrying signs, there is room for optimism, Quintal said.

When new leaders come to power, she said, human rights and press freedoms can improve very quickly.

Also Read: Facebook Rolls Out New Tool that Lets Journalists Examine Political Ads

Quintal pointed to The Gambia as one example, where the new president, Adama Barrow, has created space for journalists to work without fear of reprisal.

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year. (VOA)