Officials from the Ministry of Health and the national drug distributor, Centrale d’Achat des Médicaments, des équipements et consommables médicaux (CAMERWA), have allayed fears that counterfeit medicines are finding their way into the country.
This came after several media reports, on Monday, revealed that India, the world’s biggest manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals, which is also one of Rwanda’s key suppliers, has become a major hub for counterfeit and substandard drugs worldwide.
Patrick Mwesigye, the Coordinator of the Ministry of Health’s Pharmacy Task Force, and Eric Nyiligira, the Director General of CAMERWA, stressed that Rwandan patients are safe because reliable suppliers are selected basing on World Health Organization (WHO) requirements, and when the drugs arrive, some samples are sent to renowned laboratories abroad for testing.
“We do care for the quality assurance of the drugs and that starts from the selection of the suppliers. First of all, we do the pre-qualification of our suppliers and, there is a series of documents that we require from the suppliers, including their good manufacturing practice – most of these documents are issued by the WHO,” Nyiligira said.
“Step two, when the drugs arrive in the country, we do undertake the quality control testing. Since we don’t have a quality control laboratory in the country, we send the samples abroad.”
CAMERWA is employing the services of Centre Humanitaire Médico-Pharmaceutique (CHMP), France’s second biggest independent pharmaceutical laboratory, to test medicines.
India is allegedly part of a USD 90 billion counterfeit drug industry and, although it has made efforts to impose stricter drug laws and clamp down on the illegal trade, it is having a tough time trying to control it.
According to reports, fake drugs are considered to be a “money machine” and estimates for the size of the counterfeit drug market range from $75 billion to $200 billion a year and the market could be much bigger, since many cases are hard to detect.
Most of Rwanda’s medicines come from India and Europe, especially Belgium, France and Spain and according to Nyiligira, CAMERWA is covering “about 80 percent of the drugs and medical supplies that are imported.”
• Challenges and solutions
According to Mwesigye, the biggest challenge lies in the fact that “in most cases, we don’t manufacture, but import medicines.”
Testing samples too, is costly.
“It costs between 500 and 700 US dollars per test – that means that you cannot really expect to test every batch,” said Nyiligira.
All is not lost as the government is working hard to address some of the challenges.
“We expect to have a laboratory within the next three years – it takes time to build a quality control lab,” said the Coordinator of the Pharmacy Task Force, who noted that funds have already been “mobilized to start setting up one”.
Government is also working round the clock to set up a national medicines regulatory agency that will consolidate some of these activities, including carrying out inspection. Further still, Mwesigye revealed that health officials “are working closely” with Interpol and other pertinent regional authorities to bring to a halt the supply of counterfeit drugs in the region.
Even though countries like India and China have stepped up efforts to detect and seize counterfeit drugs, these drug manufacturers are also becoming more vigilant and, experts often find it hard to distinguish the counterfeits from the genuine ones.
East African Community (EAC) will receive USD 9.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through the World Bank, to fund the project on medicines registration harmonization in the bloc.