Home Counterdrug Operations African Countries Combat Fake Drug Problem

African Countries Combat Fake Drug Problem


The fake drug market is prospering in Africa. The rise in fake medical dealers is not a drug issue, but a financial one. As Africa’s economy suffers, the population desperately seeks ways to support their families.

Fake or counterfeit drugs are affecting the world, but African countries are being affected more than others. The pharmaceutical market has become saturated in Africa with fake or counterfeit drugs due to open borders, unstable governments, inaccessibility to drugs and healthcare facilities and the internet (Oneko, 2018). Moreover, antimicrobial resistant and drug-resistant infections are some of the deleterious effects of fake drugs.

Fake drugs are falsified medical products that harm their consumer instead of treating their illness (World Health Organization, 2018). Counterfeit or falsified drugs are deliberately misrepresented in identity, composition or source (World Health Organization, 2018). They contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient, or an incorrect amount of the active ingredient.

Falsified medical products take the form of medicines and vaccines. The most common falsified drugs are fake antimalaria and fake antibiotics, which have contributed to the increased rate of antimicrobial resistance and drug resistance in among Africans (World Health Organization, 2018).

Counterfeit drugs can be found in street markets, healthcare facilities, on unregulated websites and on smart phone applications all over the world. But factors such as a depressed economy, high unemployment, ineffective governance, open borders, weak health systems and civil unrest have fueled the fake drug trade in Africa (World Health Organization, 2018). Specifically, Zimbabwe and Ghana have a saturated market of fake drugs posing as antibiotics, skin lightening creams and sex enhancement drugs (Musvanhiri, 2017).

A group called the WHO has formed a member state mechanism, with trained regulatory staff, where countries can organize action against fake drugs (World Health Organization, 2018). They established a Global Surveillance and Monitoring System in 2013 which assists countries in reporting incidents of substandard and falsified medical products (World Health Organization, 2018).

Ghana, Zimbabwe and Nigeria are fighting the bombardment of fake drugs being sold. According to the WHO, 30 percent of all drugs in Ghana could be fake (World Health Organization, 2018). As a result, a company called mPedigree has developed an app that will allow consumers to scan the codes of packets to check their authenticity. The result of the scan will show if the drug is a fake or the original (Oneko, 2018).

Zimbabwe has imposed strict sentences on fake drug dealers. Sellers could receive up to 20 years in prison if convicted. According to the WHO more than 120,000 Africans have died as a result of fake antimalarial drugs while others have experienced complications due to fake tuberculosis and HIV drugs (Musvanhiri, 2017).

In 2009, Nigeria reduced the sale of fake drugs by 16 percent after introducing stiffer penalties for selling counterfeit drugs, closing Onitsha Market—a fake drug market and banning Chinese and Indian companies form importing in their products (Bate, 2009).

The WHO has proposed a strategy to reduce fake drugs in Africa which includes regular surveillance of all medical products, formation of quality control laboratories and the establishment of quality management systems and governing bodies by 2025. Additionally, the WHO suggests that six-month clinical trials should be conducted for medical products, have adequate human and technical resources for the National Medicine Regulatory Authorities (NMRA) and every two years asses how countries are implementing the strategy based on a set of agreed indicators (Shaban, 2016).

The World Health Organization also recommends consumers remain vigilant by inspecting medicines they purchase, check the dosage, packaging, security seals and ensure the batch number and expiration date on the primary package matches the batch number and expiration date on the secondary package (World Health Organization,2018). Consumers should also be aware of spam emails, websites offering prescription only medicines without a prescription, low-priced products and websites that do not display a physical address or landline (World Health Organization, 2018).

Africa is utilizing established and innovative ways to tackle the fake drug problem that has infiltrated the continent.  For more information on this topic please read “Fighting the Spread of Fake Drugs in Africa.”



Bates, R. (2009). Fighting Fake Drugs, Solving Africa’s Counterfeiting Problem. The New Atlantis Journal of Technology & Society. Summer 2009. Retrieved from https://www.the newatlantis.com/publications/fighting-fake-drugs

Musvanhiri, P. (2017). Zimbabwe Steps Up Fight Against the Counterfeit Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-steps-up-fight-against-counterfeit-medicine/a-40446278

Oneko, S. (2018). Fighting the Spread of Fake Drugs in Africa. Retrieved from https://mg.co.za/article/2018-01-11-fighting-the-spread-of-fake-drugs-in-africa

Shaban, A. With WHO. (2016). Fight Against Fake Drugs: WHO Roadmap for Africa. Retrieved from http://www.africanews.com/2016/08/22/fight-against-fake-drugs-who-road-map-for-africa//

World Health Organization. (2018). Substandard and falsified medical products. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs275/en/

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