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Black market medicines re-emerge

Women selling medicines in market in Cote d'Ivoire's commercial capital, Abidjan. Alexis Adele/IRIN
Trays piled with dicey medicines are re-emerging in the markets of the Guinean capital, Conakry, a few months after the military government cracked down on unregulated sales.

The fight against counterfeit drugs was always going to be difficult given the severe shortage of medicines in public hospitals and health centres, Mohamed Lamine Yansané, the health and public hygiene ministry's chief of staff, told IRIN on 1 June.

Private pharmacies have medicines but they are unaffordable for many Guineans.

“The authorities are having a tough time fighting this because there is no alternative [for people],” he said. “We could destroy all the products being sold in the markets, but then where would people go for medicines?”

In March the junta arrested several people for the alleged manufacture and sale of counterfeit medicines and prohibited sales outside pharmacies. Conakry residents say black market medicines were scarce for a brief period after the crackdown but have reappeared in recent weeks.

The persistence of the phenomenon underscores the urgency of supplying Guinea’s public health centres with essential medicines, the Health Ministry’s Yansané said.

At Niger market in Conakry’s Kaloum neighbourhood, Mariam Sylla told IRIN she had no choice but to turn to black market medicines. “Products in the pharmacies are too expensive; we prefer to buy in the informal market.”

Vendors, too, seem pleased the sales are thriving again.

“I started to sell again when I saw other people doing so in other markets like Madina [a main Conakry marketplace],” said a young vendor who requested anonymity. “This is how I feed my family.”

Asked whether he was worried about checks by the authorities, he said no.

The junta recently announced it would free up money to buy medicines to supply public health centres and some donors have expressed interest in helping, but to date nothing has materialised, Yansané told IRIN.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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