Overpriced medicines sabotage malaria war

Gatonye Gathura | 09 Nov 2010
Daily Nation
Pharmacists across the country are making massive profits from highly subsidised malaria drugs that are meant to make the treatment more accessible to majority of Kenyans.

A cross section of pharmacies, sampled by Nation from Nairobi, Mombasa, Naivasha and Meru are found to be selling the medicines at inflated prices of anywhere between Sh50 and Sh240 instead of the recommended price of Sh40 for an adult dosage.

Launching a project funded by the Global Fund — the Affordable Medicines Facility — the Minister for Public Health and Sanitation Mrs Beth Mugo said in August that the highly effective drugs should retail at no more than Sh40 for an adult's dose and Sh10 for children.

However, various pharmaceutical outlets are retailing the drugs at several times more than the recommended price.

At BEL-EA Pharmacy Ltd in the city, we were sold an adult dose of one of the subsidised brands Artefan at Sh180 on Tuesday. Similar products were bought for Sh80 at Keypoint Pharmaceuticals and at Sh50 at Nila Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

At two outlets in Naivasha, Artefan was being offered at Sh80 yesterday while three outlets we sampled in Mombasa each offered to sell the drugs to us at Sh100 for an adult's dose.

According to Dr Kamamia Murichu of the Kenya Pharmaceuticals Distributors Association, they have identified several pharmacies in Meru Town that are selling the drug at between Sh200 and Sh240.

According to the distributors of Artefan in Kenya, Harley's Ltd, on behalf of the manufacturers Ajanta of India, a dose is sold to retailers at Sh26 to be sold to consumers at the recommended price of Sh40.

"One of the reasons for the subsidised drugs was to reduce the incentive for counterfeited malaria medicines; consequently if retailers ignore the recommended prices, then substandard drugs will continue derailing the war on malaria," said Mr Nishil Haria of Harley's Ltd.

Ajanta is one of the six drug manufacturers participating in the project being implemented in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Before launching the programme, Mrs Mugo had met private pharmaceutical distributors and retailers to impress on them the importance of adhering to the recommended price.

During the launch, Dr Willis Akhwale, the head of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Public Health said the government would ensure that the private sector distributors complied with the set regulations and that they sell a dose at the recommended price.

However, on Tuesday when we told him we had bought the subsidised malaria drugs at prices several times over the recommended price he was surprised.

"We shall need to liaise with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board to see how this can be stopped," he said.

But he intimated that there was nothing much the government could legally do since it was a willing buyer willing seller transaction.

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