Why patients in Africa cannot access medicines on quality

The rights to life and access to healthcare are a priority for all human beings. In Africa 270 mipllion people lack access to essential medicines of quality. This contributes to millions of deaths and untold suffering. Malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB and other infectious diseases cause death and have serious social and economic consequences. Today there are medicines able to cure many illnesses or improve the life of those suffering from them. The problem is that medicine prices are unaffordable for most Africans. 

Inappropriate prescriptions, high prices, low quality, improper use of medicines and the existence of fake (false) medicines affect the health of the population who often received little benefit for their spending on drugs. Beside those “visible sides” of the problem, there are other “invisible aspects”, such as patents, which raise the price of medicines while offering great benefits to the pharmaceutical companies producing them; the lack of medicine controls that leads to lower quality of the medicines; and the greed for illegal profits of those producing and trading fake or counterfeit medicines that have no quality at all and can be harmful.

In globalisation “knowledge” is a great asset. Enterprises and individuals that possess “knowledge” (technical, scientific, intellectual, etc) protect it, and oblige others to pay for using it or benefiting from it. Patents are part of this “knowledge protection”. The price of patented medicines is very high, because apparently we pay for the research done on the product.

While patented medicines are expensive, generic medicines are much cheaper because they have no patent and there are no research costs. Generic medicines contain the same active ingredients and pharmaceutical properties as the patented medicine. Generics are identical in dose, strength, safety, efficacy, to patented medicine. Their effect is the same but their price is much lower.

In Europe, when a company produces a medicine to be exported to Africa, the control is minimal. They say it is the responsibility of the country dispensing the medicine. The problem is that the African countries often do not have the capacity, or the means to do this control. As a result the medicine is substandard and does not meet the quality standards set for them.  

Fake or counterfeit medicines are those manufactured with criminal intent, by deliberately and fraudulently mislabelling them, so that people think they are legitimate medicines. These false medicines constitute a real danger for the population, causing many deaths and health problems. African markets and shops are full of fake medicines with the appearance of “good drugs”. Millions of people in Africa consume ordinary or toxic products, believing they are taking good medicine. There is great danger in buying drugs on the street and markets sold by non-pharmaceutical staff. 

What AEFJN does for the access to Quality medicines for all in Africa 

The International Trade Agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union (EU) protect patents, even at the expense of public health. AEFJN works with both institutions to allow African countries to protect public health and to use generic medicines even when the original medicine is still under patent protection.  

To improve the quality of medicines in Africa, AEFJN with other organizations has established the Charter for the Quality of Medicines, an ethical code for the buyers of medicines in Africa, offering them landmarks to make sure they buy quality medicines. Signing the Charter implies a commitment to adopting essential quality criteria for the purchase of these products, thus contributing to the setting up of a Quality Assurance (QA) system for medicines.


AEFJN works with the EU and the national governments towards a change of legislation to enhance the quality control, safety and efficacy on medicines going to Africa.

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