Kenyans could be slowly dying from medication that is meant to cure them of their illnesses, even as National Quality Control Laboratory (NQCL) and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) lock horns over control of the health industry.
The two bodies are tasked with ensuring a safe health industry in the country, as well as regulating imports into the country.
However, the two bodies seem to be too focused on outfoxing each other, leaving Kenyans exposed to poisonous medication as cartels mint millions.
In one instance, it is reported that digoxin, a drug for treating blood pressure, which has the standard 0.5-milligram potency, is being sold in the country at 5milligram protency. At this dosage, the medicine can cause instant death upon ingestion.
“If the 0.5 milligrams were supposed to reduce blood pressure from 200 to 120, the 5-milligram tablet, being 10 times stronger, could lower the pressure to 20, which kills a person instantly,” said a senior pharmacist at NQCL as quoted by Nation.
While digoxin is said to be sold in an overdose, the medicine could also be ineffective since companies are packaging pure starch without medicinal value and exporting it to Kenya as medicine without the bodies noticing. If at all they notice, they ignore after pocketing millions from cartels.
Basically, a tablet contains medicine, which should form 10 per cent or even five per cent, and a carrier composed of starch.
“A patient would think they are treating their condition whereas the “medicine” is just as good as eating ugali,” adds the officer.
The health sector in Kenya is also receiving medicine from companies that manufacture or import injectable drugs that are not sterilised (to kill bacteria). This could be lethal when injected into the blood stream.
NQCL came into being in 1992 to complement PPB in testing and registering drugs as well as licensing manufacturers. However, the Ministry of Health has been accused of siding with PPB.
Last year, Health CS Sicily Kariuki ordered the removal of the director, Dr Hezekiah Chepkwony, and his two deputies, Dr Pius Wanjala and Dr George Wanganga, and sacked the NQCL board. However, all the parties were reinstated after the court termed their removal illegal.
“The petitioners maintain their current service and positions at the NQCL without loss of benefits and status until any intended deployment is done in compliance with the Constitution, statute law and the human resource policies and procedures manual for the Public Service in force,” ordered Employment and Labour Relations Judge Onesmus Makau.
As of 2018, Kenya Medical Supplies Agency had supplied expired drugs worth 150 million to the country’s regional hospitals.
“PPB registers drugs that are not certified and which have failed analytical tests and GMP. That is how substandard drugs flood our markets,” said a NQCL board member.
Among companies said to be operating despite failing a quality inspection include Mac’s Pharmaceutical Ltd and Sphinx Pharmaceutical Ltd, according to NQCL director Dr Chepkwony.
According to PPB statistics, 70 per cent of medicines are imported while 30 per cent are locally manufactured. Of the locally manufactured drugs, 60 per cent are exported, mostly to the East African Community.
The prevalence of fake medicine in Kenya has been flagged by international community, with the most recent being World Heal Organisation that flagged broad-spectrum antibiotic drug Augmentin.
A recent study by the ministry of health has revealed that half of hospitals in Kenya failed expired drug test.
According to the Kenya Harmonised Health Facility Assessment report for 2018/19, the affected hospitals do not regularly remove expired or unusable medicine from the shelves.
The research also found out that drug outlets in Nairobi, Nyeri, Migori and Garissa were the worst in keeping records of drugs received, dispensed and expired.
Of all the drug outlets and hospitals surveyed, only 54 percent have records and processes to ensure disposal of expired or unusable drugs.