With click of a button, you can buy restricted drugs online

Friday, March 13th, 2020 00:00 | By
Some of the drugs People Daily bought at Jumia Online Shop. Photo/PD/BERNARD ORWONGO

George Kebaso @Morarak

It started with a click to confirm a tip about the sale of restricted medicines online and a range of medical products popped up.

And this touched off the alarm: I had to get to the bottom of what is not only clearly a threat to individual health, but the entire pharmaceutical industry after being tipped by a friend and pharmacist Dr Wairimu Mbogo.

“...Jumia is promoting this entire drug spiking... Please go and buy Alzolam and Ritalin online ASAP...yaani, they are causing the kuwekewa mchele menace.

These are restricted medicines even viagra and all sorts of medicine,” she wrote in a WhatsApp chat on February 21.

Dr Mbogo, the founder of Meraky Healthcare Limited, also provided a list of some of the drugs on sale on the Jumia Online shop.

After ascertaining the drugs were available on the online shop, I placed my order through an agent in the guise of an urgent requirement for a client who needed Ezislim, which is advertised as a natural slimming tablet costing Sh1,200. 

The other was Ritalin, a stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy—a condition in which a person falls into a deep sleep when they are in a relaxing environment. It was going for Sh2,800 per doze.

“Hello, I want to buy some drugs. How can I go about it?”, the conversation began on the Facebook space hosted by the online company.

Five hours later, the response came: “Medication? Which ones? Tell me the name of what you want.”

One of the listed drugs on the Jumia Online shop is Kamagra, which is sold as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED).

This is a cheaper alternative to performance drugs such as Viagra, Cialis or Levitra. I also enquired about it, but wasn’t available.

A quick check online for Kamagra safety and I was struck by a review. 

Medical advice

“Kamagra is potentially very dangerous if taken without a prescription, even in the UK, it is not currently licensed for sale, and it is therefore illegal to buy or sell it anywhere in the world, especially when there is no certified medical advice.”

Back to my order, the agent inquired: “Do you want to order the ones that are available?”

“Yes,” I responded. To complete the transaction, the agent asked for my details: full name, phone number and location— and what followed was a confirmed sale indicating the cost, date and time for delivery!

It was an easy transaction that was conducted from the comfort of my seat without tests or a doctor’s prescription.

That day, I, too, was captured as one of the millions of people seeking prescription drugs online.

From male sexual enhancement drugs to slimming tablets and drugs advertised as remedies for non-communicable diseases, thousands of Kenyans are putting their lives at risk by buying the medicines, whose effect they seldom know.

Though ignorant of the harm they are visiting on themselves, they trust Jumia Online shop, which is one of the biggest local commercial internet outlets. 

It is also convenient for those who don’t have either the time or energy to visit supermarkets and other shopping outlets. Why? It delivers the goods to location!

After procuring my drugs, I called Dr Mbogo to confirm that her fears were not unfounded.

“The fact that one can easily access such controlled medicine online without a prescription or instruction from a pharmacist is beyond scary.

Not only is it unlawful, it shows how dangerously exposed we are to medicines that can be abused or used to pursue criminal activities,” she said.

Dr Mbogo stressed the need for tightening the regulatory regime and educating the public on the dangers of buying over-the-counter or online drugs for self-medication and abuse.

But the most worrying aspect of the whole transaction is that even after going to the online shop to complain, and notifying the regulator, Jumia has continued to advertise and sell the drugs.

Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK) president Louis Machogu says it is unethical to advertise medicines online.

“Where is the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) when unregulated sale of dangerous drugs is happening on the internet?” he posed during an interview with People Daily.

Trade names

He said before a person orders and uses any pharmaceutical drug, they must have a prescription, and even counselling.

In a letter to PPB, Machogu raised concern about Jumia’s business practices. “We have come across questionable advertisement of medicines on Jumia Online trading platform.

The platform indicates that you can order online and the medicines will be delivered to your location.

“The trade names, international non-proprietary names, marketing authorisation holders, retail prices and promotional discounts of these Part 1 poisons are all clearly visible in these advertisements,” Machogu said in the letter titled Unethical sale and advertising of Part 1 poisons on Jumia Online Platform.

When contacted, PPB officials said they had notified the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) which provides online hosting spaces for companies which wish to advertise their products.

The board’s Drugs, Crime and Investigations head, Dennis Otieno confirmed the domains containing such pharmaceutical information and products especially on the restricted ones had been pulled down.

Online chemists

“Immediately we learnt of the existing online pharmacies we contacted CA Acting director, Mercy Wanjau, and most of those entities were pulled down from the Jumia Online platform.

However, we are asking those who want to venture into online pharmaceutical trading platform to pass through the PPB for certification,” he said.

Some internet findings show a space littered with a myriad of online chemists. Some of them, include; myDAWA, pharmaplus,Pharmashop, e-mart and LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor platform which hosts a number of chemists.

According to Dr Kariuki Gachoki, the board’s head of Medicine Information, Jumia does not, however, own those products. 

“They belong to someone else. However, we have some investigations going on,” he told People Daily.

A week after the interview, the board issued a public advisory warning against buying medical products from unauthorised premises.

“It has come to the attention of the board that some e-commerce platforms, are trading in medical products including prescription-only medicine, in total disregard of the provisions of the pharmacy and Poisons Act (CAP 244, Laws of Kenya),” the board said a statement signed by the chief executive officer, Dr Fred Siyoi.

He said the board was working closely with CA to pull down the concerned domains.

“We appeal to the members of the public to buy medical products only from authorised premises whose licence status can easily be verified using a health safety code, visibly placed in medicine outlets, by sending an SMS to 21031,” he said.

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