Benin suspends pharmacy body over ‘fake drugs’ scandal

The Benin government on Wednesday suspended the country's official pharmacy body for six months and banned a key drugs supplier in a bid to clear up the pharmaceutical sector and crack down on fake drugs.

The decision follows a court ruling that jailed pharmaceutical executives on Tuesday on charges of selling illicit medicine in the West African country.

“The council of ministers has decided to suspend for a period of six months the Benin National Pharmacists’ Association, the time needed to make necessary reforms in the sector,” Minister of Justice Joseph Djogbenou told reporters.

“The Association was unable to fulfil its duties and the State decided to take over its responsibilities. There is evidence of complacency,” he added, but said that “it is not a dissolution but a suspension”.

The National Pharmacists’ Association was not available to immediately comment.

The government also announced that one of the main importers, the laboratory New Cesamex, based in DR Congo, “is now banned from activity in Benin and its products will be removed from all pharmacies”.

Atao Hinnouho, a member of the opposition, has worked with the laboratory and several hundred boxes of medicine were seized at his home in early December, Djogbenou said.

Hinnouho has fled and is on the run, but two of his aides were among the group sentenced Tuesday to between six months and four years in prison for being connected to the sale of illegal and false drugs.

Benin is fighting against a reputation for trafficking expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa — a business that has deeply alarmed health watchdogs.

President Patrice Talon, elected in 2016, has vowed a crack down.

Over the past year, dozens of people have been arrested and tonnes of fake medications seized.

A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States, has also announced an investigation into the business.

Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.

Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or — in the case of antibiotics — worsen the problem.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died after taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.

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