Regulate pharmaceutical industry

Editorial, Normal

The National,Monday March 21st, 2016

 THE medical fraternity will always be quick to alert the public against using alternative or traditional herbal remedies, which have never been scientifically tested for their efficacy and effects on the human body.  

Understandably, the scientific mind would only encourage the use of medicines which have been proven and tested to work on ailments with the least of side effects.

By and large, traditional or alternative medicines used in Papua New Guinea are basically home-made with the use of very basic apparatus.  The packaging is not as elegant as factory made products and the conditions under which they are concocted are not known and open to conjecture.

The producers and promoters are heavily dependent on word of mouth testimonies of those who have been “healed” by their products. 

People have been told to be wary of these untested alternative remedies, however effective they might be. They may not necessarily have the reservations about factory made and professionally packaged drugs. Some brands have been around for a long time and have won the public’s confidence.

To the simple Papua New Guinean, the anti-biotic amoxicillin is the panacea for a number of health conditions. Whether it is bought with a prescription at a certified drug store or from a street seller, it is still amoxicillin and must work, never mind the fine print on the content.

Herein lies the danger and grave risk alluded to in a recent health inspectors meeting in Port Moresby. 

The meeting was told of a rise in illegal pharmaceutical activities, which were carried out by both illegal and legally registered companies in the country.

These illicit activities include wrong labelling of drugs and counterfeit and substandard medicines.

Pharmaceutical crime poses a grave danger to public health.  Falsifying medicines undermine people’s faith in the health care system, while threatening the lives of the most vulnerable members of society. 

The proliferation of substandard drugs or counterfeits of known brands is a clear indication of a lack of faith in the public health system or inability to access public health services.  

The easy access to drugs openly sold on shops shelves or streets is easier and more convenient that spending hours in long queues at public health facilities.

The situation creates just the right environment for the proliferation of illegal, counterfeit pharmaceutical products and falsifying of brands.

Where traditional cures have been found to be effective, these should be vigorously promoted throughout the country so people do not resort to products that are illegally produced and falsely packaged and subject them to grave health risks than where they do use local proven and tested local remedies.

Revelations of the existence of sub-standard drugs and warnings against the use of untested alternative traditional medicine really leaves the suffering public in a dilemma.  

Where does the average Papua New Guinean go to with his or her health complaint?

The long lines at the hospitals and health centres are intimidating enough and besides one may be given only a prescription to buy medicines at a private pharmacy.  

Does one go by the testimonies of others on herbal treatments?  Do they buy the cheap drugs without prescriptions?  Are even those prescription drugs on shop shelves really what they are in chemical composition and weight?

These are real health choices faced by the man and woman on the street today. Questions of the integrity of the pharmaceutical industry – arguably the core of the public health system – leave very little hope for the public. 

The European Healthcare Fraud and Corruption Network recently reported that the number of counterfeit medicine discovered at European country borders had dramatically increased.  No one knows by what extent that trade has grown.  Figures were obtained at European borders where surveillance standards are among the best in the world.  

In contrast, the door is flung wide open in this country for any unscrupulous corporation or individual with a handsome profit in mind to conduct their business with impunity while gambling with the lives of the most vulnerable of society, the sick and helpless.

This calls for government to strictly regulate the pharmaceutical industry and allow only reputable companies to supply the public health system.