The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has warned that up to half of the medicines available in the Sahel are substandard or outdated.
Substandard medicines are being withdrawn from the supply chain in Europe and to a lesser extent in China and India. They then often pass through seaports in Guinea, Ghana, Benin, and Nigeria before being transported to the Sahel.
The UNODC report released on Tuesday highlights Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad as the hardest hit countries.
“Even without reliable data on all the volumes traded in different ways in Sahel countries, studies show that the percentage of substandard or adulterated drugs on the market varies between 19% and 50%,”the UN stated.
Worse, once drugs are diverted from the formal supply chain, there is little guidance on how they should be used by a patient.
“If you want to take an antibiotic off the market, you can get it. Is it right to use it or not? It has to be controlled,” said François Patuel, UNDOC’s head of research and development.
He added that these deficiencies contribute to bacterial and antimalarial resistance.
Those who maintain this trade range from employees of pharmaceutical companies to street vendors and security guards.
But while radical Islamist violence has plagued the Sahel, armed groups are less involved in this type of human trafficking.
“Despite the widely reported involvement of terrorist groups and non-state armed groups in drug trafficking in the Sahel, many of the documented cases show that it is limited,” the report said.
He also noted the erosion of trust in the healthcare system and government when these less effective treatments fail in the people who choose to take them.