Cairo, Egypt – While its economy is still suffering from weak tourism, its new government is trying to do its best to bolster its modest regulatory structures to oversee medicines. With a population of approaching 90 million, Africa’s third most populous nation, is an important final destination for medicines, and a key transit point too. But it’s not just good medicines that Egypt needs to assess and ensure are procured, it has to prevent the bad – counterfeits made by criminals and substandard products made by legal firms.
The fake of the cancer drug Avastin that hit America in 2012 probably transited Cairo, and trade in fakes of all sorts of medicines is an ever present threat to health. Only Jordan and Israel in the region do a better job of overseeing the medicines on the market. Lebanon’s authorities try too but are often overwhelmed by the skilled and ever present Lebanese traders who trade in medicines of all varieties.
Our limited data show that Cairo’s drug quality is far better than Sub-Saharan Africa and on a par with that of India. Only a few samples of one type of antibiotic failed quality assessments (overall roughly 6% fail and roughly half of those are fakes). But the worrying thing for the Egyptian Drug Authority is that as a transit point it has a lot of unregistered drugs entering the market. Unregistered drugs may work fine, but our evidence shows they not as well made and are 5 times more likely to be substandard as registered products.
And here the drug regulator cannot do it alone. As the EDA Vice Minister, Dr Tarek Salman, is well aware the Ministry of Health needs the assistance of other agencies, such as customs, police and health authorities, in order to intercept such potentially dangerous products. A Task Force to achieve this end is being planned.
Working out the details will probably take time, but at least Egypt has identified a problem and is going to try to resolve it, which puts it far ahead of most nations, including many developing ones.