“Trafficking of fake drugs, hidden side of failing health system in Africa”: A Reflection

African Leaders and Stakeholders in the Health Industry the Lome Summit to Counter the Trafficking of Fake Drugs, on January 17-18, 2020.
Credit: Public Domain

Some days after African leaders and stakeholders in the health industry met in Togo for a summit to counter the trafficking of fake drugs in the world’s second largest continent, an African missionary priest ministering in the West African country is of the opinion that for the initiative to succeed, reform of the health system in Africa is necessary.

At the end of the January 17-18 summit in Togo’s capital, Lomé, the Presidents of Congo, Ghana, Gambia, Niger, Senegal, Togo, and Uganda signed the Lome Initiative, a legally binding agreement committing the governments to enact laws criminalizing the trafficking of fake medicines.

According to Fr. Donald Zagore, “Trafficking of fake medicines is just the hidden side of a bigger problem: the failing health system in Africa.”

“We can continually organize expensive conferences of this kind, but if we do not tackle the essence of the problem, which remains fundamentally the real reform of African health systems, our conferences will always be unproductive,” Fr. Zagore has said in a reflection sent to ACI Africa Monday, January 20.

While appreciating the initiative by the African Presidents, the member of the Society of African Missions (SMA) has stressed the need for the leaders to set up efficient health systems.

“The real fight to overcome this phenomenon, is the awareness of our heads of state that it is up to our states to set up health systems that truly and effectively meet the needs of populations and especially populations of the poorest,” he reflected.

“In Africa, it is difficult for the poor to get adequate health care because our health systems are failing; it is unfortunate, but such is the reality,” the Ivorian religious missionary laments.

“If the rich in Africa have recourse to European hospitals because (they are) well equipped with good health care systems, the poor are treated in the street. And it is unfortunately in the street that the traffic of fake medicines flourishes,” Fr. Zagore has reflected.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 42 percent of all fake medicines reported to them between 2013 and 2017 were from Africa.

In the considered opinion of the West African missionary, “establishing sustainable and robust health systems for all is an imperative since the right to health is a fundamental right for everyone. It is only through this channel that the traffic of fake medicines will go away on its own.”

According to the summit sponsor, Brazzaville Foundation, a UK-based non-profit charity that has been involved in the fight against trafficking in substandard and falsified (SF) medicines since 2017, while the sale and distribution of fake drugs is a global problem, it is acute in Africa where “upto 60%  of medicines in circulation are believed to be substandard or falsified.”

“Each year, they (SFs) are estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of African lives, including 120,000 children under the age of five who die as a result of fake antimalarials,” the organization has explained.

Besides costing human lives, an advisory board member of Brazzaville Foundation, Jean-Louis Bruguiere revealed in a press conference at the end of the summit that “terrorism groups including Hezbollah and Hamas are financed by falsified medicine trafficking, but criminalization is so weak that traffickers are punished with ridiculous fines and sentences.”


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]