Analyzing The Response of ABEER Pharmacy On The Confiscation Of “Substandard Drugs”

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

Yesterday this paper carried a front page story, captioned:” Substandard Drugs Discovered At ABEER Pharmacy,“ in which it was reported that the Liberia Medicines & Health Products Regulatory Authority (LMHRA), the confiscation of several substandard drugs from the ABEER Pharmacy, one of the leading pharmacies in the country. The action was carried out by the agency in the wake of concerns about fake, expired and substandard drugs on the Liberian market. The agency took the action days after it warned against the sale of fake drugs to the Liberian people.

The LMHRA was set up in 2001, among other things, to register all medicines that are locally manufactured, imported, distributed, sold and used in Liberia; prepared, update and keep the register of medicines used in both the private and public sector in Liberia; to remove from the register and prohibit manufacture, importation, distribution sale and use of any medicine whose quality, safety or efficacy is brought to question and to set up a quality control laboratory to undertake laboratory analysis of all medicines to be imported and used in Liberia.

Announcing the agency’s action during a press conference on Wednesday, Managing Director, David Sumo, said the LMHRA has been invited to play a role in the Ebola outbreak in the country but however they, being a government entity, the LMHRA will continue playing its role and keep engaging other institutions most especially the Ministry of Health to ensure that drugs that are coming into the country are secured for the benefit of all.

Furthermore, he said his agency is actively engaged with the private sectors because the private sectors are key components of the health care delivery system and that the agency is vigorously doing its best to ensure that drugs that are in the country are good to protect the citizens from harmful effects.

He added that the agency is also committed to ensuring that drugs donated to the government in the wake of the fight against Ebola are safe for human consumption, especially at this time when many persons are rushing to pharmacies because of the limited medical facilities. The agency’s manager noted that it is possible in such a situation that people may want to exploit it to the detriment of the Liberian people. In his words he said, “In a situation like this someone can use this means to win and we become the victims.”

Indeed, the campaign of the agency on such a matter is commendable, more so at this time of the dreadful Ebola virus when many of our people look up to pharmacies because many medical facilities lack the capacity to meet the growing demand for treatment. For me, I take special interest in keeping and maintaining the ethics of the journalism profession because in such a situation, it is imperative or mandatory for the media to get the other side of the story. The agency explained that it took the action during a press conference because the pharmacy was found to be in possession of substandard drugs. That was what is usually referred to as “the side of the agency.”

With this, it then behooves the media institution, like THE INQUIRER that decided to run the story to make sure that it is “balanced.” That is, by getting the other side of the story (a reaction or comment from the pharmacy), which is best practice in the journalism profession, especially as it relates to stories that center on an allegation such as the issue of “substandard drugs,” by a major pharmacy which is not something to be treated with triviality, as it involves people’s lives.

It was in adherence to this ethical requirement that this paper decided to get the side of the pharmacy, which indisputably is one of the biggest pharmacies in the country, which is involved in both wholesale and also retailing. Surprisingly to this paper, the manager of the pharmacy declined to comment, and discourteously obnoxiously said:, “I do not run my Pharmacy in the Press. You can publish anything you want to publish.”

It is this distasteful comment from the manager that I have decided to deal with. In all fairness the manager said this because he believes that “nothing will come from this,’ just to say it the Liberian way. Many times such actions are taken against business people and nothing is heard about applying the rules that govern such violations, specifically on something that concerns the health of the citizenry.

As it is known, ‘laws are made to guide our conduct and behavior. And those punishments are prescribed for any violation thereof. These punishments, among other things are there to serve as deterrence to would-be violators. It is from these laws that regulations and rules are made by some institutions to govern the activities of those institutions and those connected with it. It is in this light that the agency has exposed such unwholesome act by this pharmacy. The million dollar question now is: WHAT NEXT?”

The authority has acted properly in keeping with one of its functions which is “to remove from the register and prohibit manufacture, importation, distribution sale and use of any medicine whose quality, safety or efficacy is brought to question,” but what remains to be seen is whether or not this pharmacy, as I said, which is one of the biggest in the country, would go scot free for this violation. Aren’t there punishments in place for such violation? Is this another business as usual? Is the LMHRA a toothless bulldog?

I ask these questions because I consciously believe that the manager gave the reporter such cheeky remarks, saying. “I do not run my Pharmacy in the Press. You can publish anything you want to publish.” This is not about running one’s business in the press; it is about being accused of an unwholesome act, something detrimental to the health of its many customers and consumers of its products.

The media, as the mouthpiece of the larger society, has a stake in such a matter of a business being accused of having substandard goods. It may not only be a pharmacy today because there are enormous records of how the Ministry of Commerce had taken action against businesses in violation of good practices concerning the sale of goods.

Until appropriate actions are taken against businesses that violate the rules in keeping with their operations, many agencies of government like the LMHRA, would only exist on papers, without making the necessary impact for which they have been established curtailing unwholesome and bad business practices. I Rest My Case.