Why trade in drugs and medicines is a jungle

Monday, November 28th, 2022 05:00 | By
Medicine. PHOTO/Courtesy

One of the fastest-growing trades in Kenya is medicines. Medicines are apparently one of the products being consumed in huge quantities. But this is a sector in turmoil.

Despite having a Government regulator, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), a lot of work remains to be done to discipline this sector and ensure that the health of Kenyans is not put at risk by its poor and illegal practices.

Many issues remain unresolved.

First; the approvals for opening a chemist, the point of contact between the trade and its customers. The PPB gives licences to operate chemists. Chemists have become the new gold rush, and dot every street corner.

One of the requirements for operating a chemist is inspection of the premises by PPB. Strangely, too many chemists are nothing more than a hole in the wall, where the pharmacist is cramped in a congested space with shelves of medicines behind him or her.

Behind the shop is another cramped quarter where all the restricted medicines are kept. The shop floor can barely fit a few people and is, therefore, always congested. Are there even enough qualified pharmacists for all these chemists, as required by law? How does PPB approve these congested chemists?

Without doubt, these chemists are incubators of sicknesses. Imagine a stuffy shop that is always congested with people, 99 per cent of whom are sick, freely mingling in that environment, circulating all manner of parasites.

Second, there are too many rogue chemists. The PPB, once in a long while, mounts a half-hearted campaign to smoke out illegal chemists, which fizzles out immediately.

The board needs to be more robust. Enjoin the public in this fight through a campaign on how to identify rogue chemists, and a toll-free line to report them. If PPB continues with its current knee-jerk policing of rogue chemists, they will never sort out this problem.

Third, the prices of medicines are exorbitant. Medicines are not just any other commodity. Investors in chemists have to be ready to work within certain price strictures, just like oil marketing companies do. This cannot be a sector that allows free-for-all business.

Overcharging on medicines is the reason even bedroom-size chemists are thriving.

Fourth, self-medication has become a huge challenge. Almost everybody is now a ‘doctor.’ ‘Everybody’ can now prescribe medicines for almost any ailment. It has got to the level where there are many ‘lay doctors’ who can even second-guess medical doctors.

The PPB and its sister agencies in the medical field must mount a huge public education campaign on the dangers of self-medication.

There is also an emerging cadre of marketers of supplements, many of whom declare these products as ‘alternatives’ to medicines. They are wreaking havoc among the general population. The marketers of these products must be constrained from passing off their products as alternatives to medicine.

Supplements are food/nutrition. This is part of the educational campaign that the Government needs to undertake urgently.

The herbalists and their concoctions have also been given too much leeway to make extravagant claims about their products.

As long as an individual, in whatever capacity, is making claims about the medicinal value of their products, the PPB must involve themselves. If the law needs to be amended to give them such powers, then so be it.

Lastly, the PPB and its sister agencies need to study the reasons Kenyans are consuming so much medicine. Has the country’s sickness hit such catastrophic levels, or is a lot of this an emerging medicine-consumption culture?

The study should be able to inform the Government on the next steps forward in creating a proper policy and legal framework for the manufacture, trade and use of medicines.

The current environment is a jungle!

— Gathu Kaara can be reached at [email protected]

More on Opinion