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Rejoinder: The Impact of Illicit Trade & Counterfeit Drugs

By Bright B. Simons & Franklin Cudjoe

We will like to applaud the sentiments recently expressed by the CEO of Unilever Ghana Ltd., Mr. Charles Cofie, regarding the impact of counterfeiting on Ghana’s national development. A counterfeit product seeks to misrepresent its source, manufacturer or contents, and thus to deceive consumers into buying something that they probably would have rejected had they been fully informed. In that sense, counterfeiting both breaches the rights of citizens/consumers as well as undermine trust in the marketplace, more often than not to the detriment of the most vulnerable in society, who rarely have the means for remedy.

Mr. Cofie’s excellent exposition had focused as much on national development as on consumer protection, and in such a comprehensive manner that this article would have been redundant were it not for a few, rather important, omissions, which leaves his analysis incomplete and his description therefore of the current counterfeiting/anti-counterfeiting situation in Ghana somewhat incomplete too. The extreme importance of the subject compels us to fill in the gaps for the benefit of the general public.

1. Mr. Cofie rightly sought to situate the problem of counterfeiting in a global context by citing World Customs Organisation figures that put the value of the counterfeit trade at $512 billion. The matter could have been more forcefully brought closer to home if he had also mentioned the extensive, EU-funded, IOPG-led, study that in July of 2008 conservatively estimated $200 million as the revenue losses (ignoring related costs, such as human and corporate impacts) to government due to counterfeiting. Readers may remember our analysis a few months ago that government of Ghana’s receipts from the new oil find would probably be less than $200 million for at least the first few years of production. That should put into perspective the scale of the financial impact alone of this menace.

2. Mr. Cofie cites a recent IPN (International Policy Network, London) report that pegs annual worldwide deaths from counterfeit medicines at 700,000, and which alludes to the high prevalence of substandard anti-malarial medicaments in Ghana and in other parts of Africa. A more complete paraphrasing of the report will have to include the fact that said IPN report was, beyond presenting new evidence, also actually referencing an empirical study to which Ghana’s IMANI was a lead contributor. The correct percentage range for the prevalence of substandard anti-malarials in Ghana is “50 percent plus”, and is deduced from a methodology of sampling a wide range of widely prescribed anti-malarials. The samples were subjected to a battery of standard tests for key performance indicators, and their failure rate is what informed the results quoted in the report under discussion. It is not simply that some samples exhibited the presence of contaminants (which is what we presume Mr. Cofie means when he refers to ‘dust, cement, talcum powder and other toxic substances’), but that even ‘pure’
formulations of several anti-malarial medications on sale in Ghana simply do not do the work they are billed to do, which is precisely what drew the attention of the study designers to the role of counterfeiting specifically rather than just general incompliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

3. The stakeholder list identified by Mr. Cofie as constituting the Business Coalition Against Counterfeiting & Illicit Trade (BCACIT) is likewise incomplete. It fails, somewhat surprisingly, to mention participants from the critical consumer activist and civil society categories, and limit the sphere solely to industry/organized labour and the regulatory agencies.

Quite clearly, the fight against counterfeiting cannot be won by an alliance of state institutions and organised business, or even organized labour, without the support and involvement of ordinary consumers and those who represent their interests. It is in recognition of that fact that BCACIT wisely invited to join its membership both the Consumers Association of Ghana, led by the redoubtable Dr. Ferdinand Tay, and mPedigree, a civil society advocacy group focusing on the contributions of technology (for end-user detection of fakes and intelligence sharing) and independent research in the fight against counterfeiting. It is hard to overemphasise the importance of consumer-driven, consumer-led, and consumer-focused perspectives in the fight to reduce counterfeiting in Ghana, but very easy to attribute the less than optimal results of ongoing efforts against the counterfeit threat to the relative neglect stakeholders have shown to the task of consumer mass mobilisation in the struggle to expose and defeat those who would put ill-gotten gain above human lives.

For far too long the campaign to bring sanity to our markets has lacked popular participation, and to the extent that it has been wanting on that score, it has not yielded the outcomes all of us have been calling for. Our rejoinder to Mr. Cofie’s article aims at rectifying the historic confinement of the anti-counterfeiting battle to organised interests, and at bringing on board the broad diversity of concerns, interests, and communities affected by the plague that is counterfeiting.

The Authors are affiliated with IMANI-Ghana and AfricaLiberty.org., and with an effort since 2007 to obtain as comprehensive a picture as possible of the counterfeiting situation in Ghana and the region. www.mPedigree.NET

Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

The author Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

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