SEVEN African heads of state signed a Political Declaration and a legally binding Framework Agreement on January 18 in the Togolese capital of Lome, committing them to introduce tough legislation to criminalise the trafficking of fake medicines and to back it up with effective and coordinated enforcement.
Known as the Lome Initiative, the Declaration seeks to strengthen and coordinate the fight against the trafficking of substandard and falsified medicines and other medical products. ‘Our aim is to expand to the rest of the African continent,’ said the heads of state of the Republic of Togo, Niger, Senegal, Uganda, Ghana and the Gambia in a statement.
‘This is a bold move which to me signifies that Africa is ready to take lead in tackling this evil, said former Malawi president Joyce Banda.
‘This is a critical first step in not only ensuring access to safe and effective medicines for all their citizens but more significantly, it will mean saving lives of men, women and children who would otherwise needlessly die at the hands of heartless criminals who facilitate importation of fake medicines into the African continent,’ Banda added.
The Lome Initiative builds on the efforts by the international community and the Brazzaville Foundation, which has been involved in the fight against the traffic in substandard and falsified (SF) medicines in recent years, namely:
- The commitments laid out in the Council of Europe’s Convention on counterfeit medical products and other crimes endangering public health
- The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (also known as the Palermo Convention, 2000). Moreover, the Initiative aims to meet and support the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly on September 25, 2015.
Banda, who delivered a keynote address at the meeting, expressed her pride at the bold stance being taken to tackle the scourge. ‘I am proud that we are all here to take a bold stand against a scourge that costs hundreds of thousands of African lives each year.
‘Although the trafficking of fake medicines is a global issue affecting about 10 percent of all medical products worldwide, it disproportionately affects our communities here, on the African continent, including my home country of Malawi.’
In an impassioned speech, the former president told the heads of state: ‘Anyone around this table familiar with my political engagement will know that I have dedicated my entire adult life to improving the livelihood of the poorest amongst us, of women, and of children. The Joyce Banda Foundation alone has reached 1.3 million Malawians in 23 years.
‘From my grassroots work all the way to the presidency. But with the presidency came the possibility to have a more lasting impact. As a woman, I will never accept that a mother can die while giving birth to her child. So, I banned traditional birth attendants from delivering babies. Within two years, we had reduced maternal deaths by 32 percent. The African Union honoured us with an award for our results, in 2013.’
Freeing newborn babies from the HIV curse was one of her ambitions. ‘We, therefore, worked to provide adequate treatment to pregnant women once they test positive and ensure their babies would be born without the virus. In doing so, we gave rise to an HIV-free generation.
‘And, more importantly for us today, against all advice, I made a public statement banning the fake medicine being dumped into our country and poisoning our brothers and sisters.’
Banda was optimistic that Africa would soon be free from the scourge of fake medicines. ‘I hope that one day we will talk of an Africa before the Lome Initiative and after the Lome Initiative,’ she said, adding that it ‘is about political will’.
‘This is the importance of political will. This is the power of our positions, and this is why I had to be here once I heard that seven sitting Heads of State were coming together to initiate a response at the pan-African level. We owe it to our people. We owe it to the 100,000 plus African children under the age of 5 that are killed by fake or substandard anti-malarial drugs each year.’
The former president urged the regional, continental and global bodies including SADC, ECOWAS, COMESA, the African Union, the African Development Bank the WHO and other UN bodies to support the initiative.
‘The challenge ahead of us will not be simple. The organised criminal networks that smuggle this poison across our borders are rich, experienced and incredibly hard to counter. They use their huge profits to bribe their way into state medical stores, evade justice systems and, worse still, finance the terrorist organisations that spread violence and destruction across our continent and the globe.’