This week I was at a wholesale pharmacy and a customer- a pharmacist told us a story I have not been able to get off my mind.
He was holding a pack of a very popular medication and examining it with great care, he set it down and asked for ten packs.
“This is the original” he muttered.
“I was at another shop last week where they showed me two packs of this drug, both of them practically identical but the original had a small mark that the counterfeit did not have” he continued.
I couldn’t speak, the implications of this ricocheted in my mind. A conversation on fake drugs ensued but I simply put my jaw on my left palm, propping my elbow on my lap and let the talk wash over me.
This drug is prescribed for anovulatory infertility, the kind that occurs when a woman does not ovulate and oligospermia– where the man’s sperm cells are inadequate or azoospermia– where the sperm cells are not produced at all.
If you are married and had a child within a year of that marriage then you cannot imagine the anguish that is the consequence of the quest for a child, this is one horror Nollywood cannot even exaggerate. So imagine a couple going through that experience who take that drug because it was prescribed or recommended (remember we are in Nigeria where everyone is a mini-doctor) and they pray that the drug works but they have no idea that the tablet that one or both of them are swallowing is ineffective.
What kind of monster fakes such a drug? I wondered. The thought would grip my head with vice like intensity from time to time but this evening while I was giving my youngest brother the medication I got for him, it struck me that my horror was misplaced. My brother has had diarrhoea for a while, it comes and goes but in the last three days it has become very serious. I had thought he was reacting to milk (he can finish a 400g pack of milk in three days) and I even told him he might be lactose intolerant.
What if the medication he had been taking for the diarrhoea has been ineffective all this while? my brother is healthy young man in his early twenties, practically in his prime of life so it really hasn’t been a life threatening issue. However millions of people of all ages have died from dehydration and electrolyte loss subsequent to diarrhoea and vomiting, it can be a matter of life and death for them to get effective medication.
What kind of monster fakes drugs, any drug! Whether it is multivitamin supplements or anticancer agents, why do it? Before you tell me it’s for the money, the pharmaceutical industry is worth billions, it is one of the (if not THE) most lucrative business ventures on earth today. There’s no need to cut corners because the money you can make legitimately is mind-blowing. I’ve thought about it all evening and I still cannot understand it.
Yet these merchants of death will lift holy hands in church on Sunday and donate huge amounts for community development and you can be sure that they’ll spray you the most money at your festive occasion. I wish I could summon Amadioha to strike everyone involved in that business, from top to bottom! The Amadioha of my father’s village that was quick to strike offenders, that’s how incensed I am.
It’s sad that after all the efforts of the late Prof Akunyili, we still live with the menace of fake drugs. I wonder if things will ever change.