The Tanzania government has suspended three top officials at the Medical Stores Department (MSD) and halted production at the Arusha-based Tanzania Pharmaceutical Industry (TPI) over circulation of fake Anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.
Addressing a news conference in Dar es Salaam, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Hussein Mwinyi, said the government has also stopped distribution of all drugs manufactured by TPI, including those stored by pharmacists and other outlets.
Those suspended from work pending investigations at the MSD are the Director General, Mr Joseph Mgaya, the Quality Assurance Manager, Mr Sadick Materu and the Quality Assurance Officer, Mr David Masero.
Dr Mwinyi said investigations conducted in August by his ministry through the Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA), established the presence of fake ARV drug type TT-VIR 30; batch no OC.01.85 at Tarime District Hospital.
After laboratory tests were conducted, Dr Hussein noted that the ARV drugs, manufactured in March, 2011 with an expiry date of February 2013, were counterfeit with documentations showing that TPI had sold it to MSD.
“The fake ARVs batch number 0C.01.85 came in two colours yellow and white,” Dr Mwinyi explained, noting that the yellow drug had a combination of Efaverenz instead of Niverapine, Lamivudine and Stavudine that are the actual combination of the real ARV drug.
He added that the white tablets had the required combination of Niverapine, adding that the tablets were in a different package to those that were registered at the TFDA. The minister said the move taken by the government to suspend the MSD officials and to stop production and distribution of drugs manufactured by TPI was meant to pave way for investigations, already going on before legal action could be instituted.
Dr Hussein explained that MSD which as a Quality Assurance Unit, tasked with making sure that drugs and other medical supplies are safe, did not conduct the safety measure to ascertain the safety of the ARV drug, before it was released to health centres.
“We also informed all regional medical officers to stop issuing the ARV drug batch number OC.O1.85 at all health centres and hand them back to MSD,” he explained.
He said already 9,570 tins of the fake drug have been recalled, adding that about 2,600 are still being stored in medical stores. The minister stressed that the government will continue to ensure ARVs of the required standard were available in health centres across the country, encouraging the public to continue using ARVs because the fake ones has been pulled off from health centres.
“Investigations by security organs are up and running on this issue for further legal action against the culprits,” he explained. Dr Mwinyi said his ministry cannot establish the harm caused by the fake drugs, noting that health centres have been directed to be alert and follow up on patients that had been given the drug.
By ROSE ATHUMANI, Tanzania Daily News