Over 1,000 types of illegal skin bleaching products on the Rwandan market

Some of the skin bleaching products found on the Rwandan market. Net photo.

An operation bringing together different government institutions kicked off in Kigali, yesterday, with an aim to rid the country of skin bleaching creams on the list of 1,343 prohibited brands.

The Spokesman of the Rwanda National Police (RNP), CP John Bosco Kabera, told The New Times in an exclusive interview that though the crackdown is not new, it is the first time different institutions were collaborating at the national level.

The Ministry of Health, the Rwanda Food and Drug Authority, Rwanda Standards Bureau and Rwanda Investigation Bureau are working together in the effort. Police will be involved in the exercise to get products off the shelves.

”There has been an ongoing operation but its enforcement was not on the scale of the current operation. We officially kicked off a big operation today (Monday) and it began in the city centre. The operation has no timeline and is continuous as long as there are people trying to smuggle these creams into the country,” he said.

Kabera said that there was a possibility that the illegal cosmetics which are mostly smuggled into the country, are more common on the market than those that are legal.

“Ministerial Instructions issued on February 6, 2016 determining the list of cosmetics whose use is prohibited in Rwanda put these products at about 1,343. We have so many of these that are prohibited from being sold on the market and their number could even be higher than the ones that are legal,” he said.

The law

Those selling illegal skin bleaching creams, he said, were breaking the law.

In its Article 15, the law relating to the regulation and inspection of food and pharmaceutical products states that “cosmetics shall mean any substances applied on the human body in order to enhance, change and impart a pleasant smell onto the human body. Cosmetics must be free of toxic substances and meet quality standards applicable in the country and be prepared in compliance with relevant principles of good preparation practice.”

The law also states that for purposes of public health interest, any cosmetic ingredient that does not meet quality requirements is prohibited.

“No person shall manufacture, import, store, exhibit, sell or dispense cosmetics that contain or consist of substances likely to adversely affect health when used, were manufactured, prepared, preserved or stored under unsanitary conditions”.

The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, pointed out that the operation will go hand in hand with countrywide awareness campaigns to teach people about the dangers associated with the cosmetics as some people use these skin-lightening products out of ignorance.

“The operation will go hand in hand with education,” she told this newspaper Sunday evening.

In Africa, at least four in ten women bleach the skin, according to the World Health Organisation.

Studies show that the skin bleaching products industry is a multi-million sector, highly unregulated, and has negative effects on more than 30 per cent of long-term users, ranging from burns to skin cancer.