AEFJN and the access to Quality Medicines in Africa
Why patients in Africa cannot access medicines of quality
AEFJN approaches the issue of health-medicines as Access to Quality Medicines for all in Africa.
The rights to life and access to healthcare are priorities for all human beings. Two main aspects related to the access to good quality medicines prevent the universal right to health from becoming a reality: intellectual property rights and patents that make access difficult and expensive and the lack of efficient quality control of medicines exported to Sub-Saharan Africa.
Access to drugs is fundamental to the human right to health. Accessibility generally refers to the idea that health policies should foster the availability of drugs at affordable prices to all those who need them.
About a third of the world’s population doesn’t have access to basic drugs, a proportion that rises to over a half in the most affected regions of Africa and Asia.
There has been an increasing awareness of the link between medicines, health and economic growth, but it is not reflected in practical terms on the international economic policy level.
Impact of lack of access to medicines in Africa
In Africa 270 million people lack access to essential good quality medicines. This contributes to millions of deaths and untold suffering. Malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB and other infectious diseases cause death and have serious social and economic consequences. Today there are medicines capable of curing many illnesses or improving the life of those suffering from them. The problem is that most Africans cannot afford them.
Inappropriate prescriptions, high prices, low quality, improper use of medicines and the existence of fake medicines affect the health of the population who often receive little money to spend on drugs. Beside those visible aspects of the problem, there are other invisible ones: patents, which raise the price of medicines while offering great profits to the pharmaceutical companies producing them, the lack of quality control and the greed of those illegally producing and trading fake or counterfeit medicines that have no quality at all and can be harmful.
Generic medicines versus Branded medicines
In globalisation “knowledge” is a great asset. Enterprises and individuals that possess “knowledge” (technical, scientific, intellectual, etc) protect it and oblige others to pay for using it or benefiting from it. Patents are part of this “knowledge protection”. The price of patented medicines is very high because, apparently, we pay for the research done on the product.
While patented medicines are expensive, generic medicines are much cheaper because they have no patent and there are no research costs. Generic medicines contain the same active ingredients and pharmaceutical properties as the patented medicine. Generics are identical in dose, strength, safety, efficacy, to patented medicine. Their effect is the same but their price is much lower.
Control and Quality of medicines
In Europe, when a company produces a medicine to be exported to Africa, the quality control is minimal. They say it is the responsibility of the country dispensing the medicine. The problem is that the African countries often do not have the capacity, or the means to do this control. As a result the medicine is substandard and does not meet the quality standards set for them.
Fake or counterfeit medicines are those manufactured with criminal intent, by deliberately and fraudulently mislabelling them, so that people think they are legitimate medicines. These counterfeit medicines constitute a real danger for the population, causing many deaths and health problems. African markets and shops are full of fake medicines that look like proper ones. Millions of people in Africa consume ordinary or toxic products, believing they are taking good medicine. There is great danger in buying drugs on the street and markets where they are sold by non-pharmaceutical staff.
What AEFJN does for the access to Quality medicines for all in Africa
The International Trade Agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union (EU) protect patents, even at the expense of public health. AEFJN works with both institutions so that African countries can protect public health and use generic medicines even when the original medicine is still under patent protection.
To improve the quality of medicines in Africa, AEFJN with other organizations has established the Charter for the Quality of Medicines, an ethical code for the buyers of medicines in Africa, offering them criteria to make sure they buy quality medicines. Signing the Charter implies a commitment to adopting these criteria, thus contributing to the setting up of a Quality Assurance (QA) system for medicines.
AEFJN works with the EU and the national governments towards a change of legislation to enhance the quality control, safety and efficacy on medicines going to Africa.