Contraband medicines: risky solution for impoverished Moroccans
By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 28/12/10
Many Moroccans buy medicine sold outside the legal market, but doing so carries a risk. With lower prices than the drugs sold in pharmacies, the drugs are a tempting alternative for people with tight budgets.
"For as long as the prices of medicines in Morocco stay high and access to healthcare remains low, Morocco will be unable to end the phenomenon, which is harming Moroccans' health despite inspections and occasional seizures of large quantities of contraband and counterfeit medicines," said economist Mohamed Jouadri.
The government is caught in "its own trap, since the prices of drugs are high whereas other, similar countries have lower prices," MP Lahcen Daoudi told Magharebia. "It is only logical that people whose purchasing power is very limited will resort to the black market, where products are sold at very low prices, despite the dangers involved. The ball is in the government's court."
Mohamed T. said he has often bought medicines sold by traders in small shops or laid out on the ground.
"I've already bought baby milk, antibiotics, tablets and stomach syrups. But I stopped the day when my son nearly died because of an out-of-date bottle of Ventolin that I had bought for 30 dirhams, when it was being sold for more than 50 dirhams at the pharmacy," he told Magharebia.
All medicines produced in Morocco, and all those imported legally, comply with regulations, according to the Health Ministry. The National Laboratory for the Examination of Medicines carries out the necessary analyses to ensure that drugs meet the requirements as regards to their quality and use.
Health Minister Yasmina Baddou told parliament on November 24th that the fraud prevention departments within the Agriculture Ministry and the Internal Affairs Ministry were stepping up inspections at locations where these drugs are sold. She called on the public to avoid buying these products, which carry health risks.
The way to stop drugs being sold outside the legal market is to raise the public's awareness of the associated health dangers and for the government to promote generic medicines in order to lower their prices, Senator Mohamed Ansari said.
The issue is of marginal importance in Morocco as the authorities conduct regular checks, according to Ali Sedrati, President of the Moroccan Pharmaceutical Industry Association.
"A certain quantity passed via the border between Morocco and Algeria. That would represent a proportion of 5%. The state mechanism that combats fraud is very effective," Sedrati told Magharebia. "As for the prices in Morocco, they are not expensive. There are generic products that are sold very cheaply."
Baddou claims her ministry is trying to lower the cost of pharmaceuticals by promoting generic drugs, reviewing pricing policies, and establishing a medicines agency. The minister claimed that these initial steps lowered the price of treatment for some chronic diseases such as cancer and hepatitis.
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