Sunday, 8 December 2019

SMUGGLED DRUGS FLOOD ZIMBABWE


High mark-ups imposed by importers, wholesalers and retailers of medicines have resulted in a flood of cheaper drugs being smuggled from neighbouring countries and sold on the streets by vendors.

Along with legal drugs, that require a doctor’s prescription and in any case can legally only be sold by a registered pharmacy, vendors are also pushing banned drugs.

The street drugs are not tested and there is no guarantee that they are genuine and have been stored properly. Worse still, the drugs are being dispensed by untrained vendors, who have usurped the functions of doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Street drugs can cost as low as a quarter to an eighth of the pharmacy prices.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) Commissioner-General Faith Mazani confirmed that drugs were being smuggled into the country, saying this called for a joint operation involving the police and the Ministry of Health and Child Care. 

“Smuggling of medicines is now rampant in this country. Some enter through undesignated points that we are not even aware of. At times, there is connivance with our officers. They are corrupted the same way as those who are involved in vehicle smuggling scams.

“Another problem is that, as Zimra, we can only detect consignments that come through the border posts.
“Others are smuggled by water using boats and with our limited resources, we are not capacitated enough to prevent such occurrences. When the drugs get into the cities, we all see them but it is difficult for us to tell whether they were smuggled or stolen from hospitals.

“So the issue is so complex and there is need for a joint operation involving Zimra, the Ministry of Health and the police to enable to raid the drugs from the streets,” she said.

Some of the drugs are banned by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) because of their hazardous effects, but they find their way illegally onto the market. 

MCAZ director-general Mrs Gugu Mahlangu said MCAZ previously launched joint operations with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Drugs and arrested a number of dealers.

Mrs Mahlangu said previous blitzes did not include Zimra, which has now turned to be an important stakeholder in the fight against illegal drug sales.
However, Mrs Mahlangu said fines imposed on the offenders were not deterrent enough.

“Fines of $500 imposed on the drug dealers are not deterrent at all. They actually treat the fines as a cost of doing business.
“Legislators should amend the laws and prescribe a mandatory prison term for drug peddlers. The fine is now more like a parking ticket,” said Mrs Mahlangu.

The opening for the smuggling chains ending with the street vendors comes from the high prices of medication in Zimbabwe compared to identical products in the rest of the region.

There are Zimbabweans who find it cost-effective to drive to Musina to fill prescriptions, or even take a bus to Blantyre every three months.

A near monopoly by one Zimbabwean company on imports of Indian generics, usually the cheapest tested brands of particular drugs, has been identified as the major reason for the high prices in pharmacies.
  
While smuggling used to be largely through official entry points, with corruption of Zimra officials part of the overhead, a general tightening of procedures has seen more smugglers reverting to canoes to bring their high-value but small-bulk cargoes across the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers.

Some of the drugs being sold on the streets without prescription include: cotrimoxazole, ibrufen, pethidine, stromox, super apetito, erythromycin, azithromycin combicult, brimal satchets, Broncleer, comblimodus, diclofenac tablets, Depo provera, doxycycline, hydrochloride injection, Attesan, benzylpenicillin, diezpam and ampicilasodica.

Other dealers are now selling drugs from their houses in high-density suburbs like Mufakose, Mbare and Mabvuku. Sex enhancers, which are also on the market, are prohibited in the country because of their side effects which may cause heart failure or damage to kidneys.

The sex-enhancing drugs selling on the illegal market include Blue Diamond tablets, Viengray, Cobra, Pentra-50, Manforce and another inscribed “7 hours”.

Our investigations have established that the drugs smuggled from Zambia and South Africa using haulage trucks and bus drivers through Beitbridge and Chirundu border posts with more dealers now using boats to smuggle the drugs from Zambia across the Zambezi River and linking up with the truck drivers just outside Chirundu.

Drugs from the borders are offloaded at service stations along Simon Mazorodze Road in Harare, where the drivers are paid for their work.

Consignments will then be taken for resale at various known “bases” at Copacabana market in the central business district (CBD), around the Fife Avenue Shopping Centre, Mbare, Highfield, Mabvuku, Kambuzuma, Glen View, Mufakose, Budiriro and Warren Park.

Those who cannot afford medical consultation fees, are either diagnosed by the street vendors for free, or do self-diagnosis before buying cheaper drugs. 

Some are under proper medical care and have been given prescriptions but cannot afford the pharmacy prices, so they also resort to the vendors.

All that is done in violation of the Medicines and Allied Substances Control Act and its associated regulations. A handful of medicines, such as aspirin, can be sold in a licensed general shop.

The next batch can be sold in a licensed pharmacy only, but does not need a prescription. The final batch can only be dispensed by a licensed pharmacy on the instructions of a doctor’s prescription.

At Mupedzanhamo market in Mbare, illegal medicines traders were visibly overwhelmed with customers.
Hydrochlorothiazide (25mg), a drug taken by hypertension patients, was selling at Z$12 for a 10-day supply while the same supply costs between $20 and $25 at city pharmacies.

Brufen, a strong painkiller once available in supermarkets as well as pharmacies, can easily be bought in Mbare without any hassle for as little as Z$3 for a packet of 10. The same pack costs up to $25 at registered pharmacies in Harare.

At the intersection of Leopold Takawira Street and Robert Mugabe Road in Harare, women vendors who were displaying empty boxes of sex enhancing and skin lightening creams were touting for customers.
  
This writer bought family planning tablets inscribed “Secure L (Levonorgestrel)” for Z$3 when registered pharmacies were charging Z$12.

In an interview, a vendor who is popularly known as Chihera at Mupedzanhamo in Mbare said street sales were on the increase so she and her friends have to restock weekly.

“Our prices are reasonable and more people are now buying from us. We are now forced to restock every week.
“We are saving lives here although we are not trained to dispense drugs. People can no longer afford drugs from pharmacies,” she said.

Another woman, who preferred anonymity, said she was making a living through selling such drugs at Copacabana.
She said her suppliers smuggle the drugs from Zambia through undesignated entry points using boats along the Zambezi River.

“We used to smuggle the drugs and creams through Chirundu Border Post, but now it is hard to do that, now we take them through Zambezi River using boats,” she said.

“There are people ready to do that for us. We don’t have any challenges transporting our ‘stuff’ from the border to Harare because no searches are conducted throughout the journey.” 

Some of the drugs have since been banned by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) because of their hazardous effects, but they find themselves illegally on the market.

Recently, MCAZ spokesperson Mr Richard Rukwata said sex enhancers and other prohibited drugs were hazardous to health.

“People should know that these sex-enhancing drugs are dangerous and can cause irreversible damage to their kidneys,” he said. “The victims end up in a terrible condition where they require regular dialysis services for the rest of their lives. We advise men who suffer erectile problems to see urologists for help than abusing the banned drugs. They should always keep fit by exercising regularly. After taking the enhancers, some may suffer heart failure.”

Recently, MCAZ spokesperson Mr Richard Rukwata said sex enhancers and other prohibited drugs were hazardous to health.

“People should know that these sex-enhancing drugs are dangerous and can cause irreversible damage to their kidneys,” he said. “The victims end up in a terrible condition where they require regular dialysis services for the rest of their lives. We advise men who suffer erectile problems to see urologists for help than abusing the banned drugs. They should always keep fit by exercising regularly. After taking the enhancers, some may suffer heart failure.” Herald

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