China and India’s poor-quality drugs and products continue to end up in Africa, investigation finds

BRUSSELS, Belgium –-Africa is becoming victimized by unsafe and contaminated foreign export products due to the lack of a clearly defined regulatory system and the institutional framework to provide policy and operation guidance for food and drug safety.

Several research findings continuously suggest that generic drugs that some Indian companies send to African countries are lower quality than the same medicines those same companies sell at home and outside Africa, according to tests of 1,470 samples, researchers said.

Ongoing findings revealed that two widely used antibiotics and two TB treatments, purportedly made in India, are more likely not to have enough of their key active ingredient when sold in Africa, compared with the same pills sold in countries such as Russia and China, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

These findings continue to suggest that Indian drug makers are sending low-quality drugs to poorer countries.

Ongoing research also suggest that the number of unsafe products imported to several African countries from China — ranging from seafood and pet food to toys and toothpaste — have grown rapidly but most, if not, all African nations lack the proper mechanism to review the importation and inspection of bad products.

Chinese-made food, drug and electronic products shipped to Africa account for more than 51 percent of all imported products imported to the continent.

Unlike the United States which continues to pressurize China on food and drug safety issues, African countries have no clue and are unconcerned about the drugs and food their people consumed from foreign nations and manufacturers.  

Few years ago, and after initially guaranteeing the safety of China’s products, Chinese officials admitted to the U.S., after much international pressure, that “as a developing country, China’s current food and drug safety situation is not very satisfactory.”

At the same time, officials in Beijing have been attempting to clean up the problems. In 2007, inspectors in China announced they had closed 180 food factories in the country in the first half of that year, and that they seized tons of candy, pickles, crackers and seafood tainted with formaldehyde, illegal dyes and industrial wax.  Despite these efforts, unscrupulous manufacturers in China continue to manufacture and import bad and contaminated products around the world, especially to Africa.

Because of these reasons, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration once placed a hold on five types of farmed fish and seafood containing traces of antifungal and antibiotic drugs that are potentially harmful to humans.

Federal officials said that repeated tests on shrimp, catfish, eel, basa and dace imported from China revealed the presence of drugs not approved in the United States for use in farmed seafood.

Although the FDA stopped short of ordering an outright ban because there is no immediate health risk, the hold implied that the FDA is not allowing the import of these types of Chinese farmed seafood until the importers can prove that the seafood is free from harmful contaminants.  

The FDA said that between October 2006 and May 2007, tests on some imported Chinese fish repeatedly found traces of the antibiotics nitrofuran and fluoroquinolones, as well as antifungals malachite green and gentian violet.

According to the FDA, the fluoroquinolones are of concern because the drugs are part of a family of widely used human antibiotics that the FDA forbids in seafood, in part to prevent bacteria from developing resistance to the drugs. The best-known example is ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic sold under the name Cipro that is used to treat a variety of infections.

African countries need to institute tougher regulations and inspection processes on drugs and food imported from abroad, especially from India and China.  China is one of the top exporters of food and other products to Africa.

 In a related development, millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras and other electronic devices used in Europe and the United States do create a flood of dangerous “e-waste” that is frequently being dumped illegally in developing countries, according to the United Nations.

A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that the U.S. discarded 258.2m computers, monitors, TVs and mobile phones in 2010, of which only 66% was recycled.

According to reports, nearly 120m mobile phones were collected, most of which were shipped to developing countries.

Industry experts say most phones contain precious metals. The circuit board can contain copper, gold, zinc, beryllium, and tantalum, the coatings are typically made of lead and phone makers are now increasingly using lithium batteries. Yet fewer than 10% of mobile phones are dismantled and reused. Part of the problem is that computers, phones and other devices are becoming increasingly complex and made of smaller and smaller components.

A previous Bloomberg’s report said Interpol was playing a vital role in preventing the shipment of e-waste.  In Europe, the level of e-waste being shipped to the developing world was revealed by Interpol some time ago. It said almost one in three containers leaving the EU that were checked by Interpol agents contained illegal e-waste.

So far, criminal investigations were filed against 40 companies.

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Globe Afrique News Desk

Globe Afrique’s News Desk coordinates and analyses news stories from around the world as well as the gathering or distribution of news. Globe Afrique, a US-based institution, is Africa’s leading investigative media entity. The institution’s researchers, analysts, reporters, and contributors deeply investigate and report on a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. The institution, which sometimes spends weeks or months researching and preparing investigative reports, also researches into social and legal issues. Have a news tip, write to
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