By Andrew Irumba
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is in Lome, Togo, has warned the world against the dangers of drug trafficking, revealing that it is one of the biggest threats to human life.
Museveni issued the warning in his Speech at the Signing of the Political Declaration of the LOME INITIATIVE, in which he states thus;
Your Excellency, Faure Gnassingbe, President of Togo,
Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,
HRH, Prince Michael of Kent,
The Board of Trustees, The Brazzaville Foundation
The Board of Advisors, The Brazzaville Foundation
Hon. Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I bring to you warm greetings from the people of the Republic of Uganda.
I am pleased to be here to confirm Uganda’s commitment to the collaborative process on the elimination of the global health challenge of trafficking of substandard, falsified medicines and other medical products.
The Banyankore say: “Obukorwa, tibwiita, bukombeera.” This refers to the small animals that are part of the mangoose family. They are small in size but, by combined action (okukombeera), they can kill a big cobra (enchweera).
I, therefore, take this opportunity to appreciate, with gratitude, the invitation that His Excellency Faure Gnassingbe, President of Togo, extended to me.
I applaud the Brazzaville Foundation for its unwavering humanitarian commitment to eliminate the vice of drug trafficking, in a bid to preserve the lives of Africans.
After realizing political independence in most African countries by the late 1970s, the Continent began preparing for another battle – economic emancipation. This led to the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action by Heads of State and Government, who met in Nigeria in July, 1980, which resulted in the birth of the Regional Economic Communities (the RECs) of: COMESA, ECOWAS, etc.
The Lagos Plan of Action was developed as the Continent’s blueprint, through which Africa could, based on the principle of collective self-reliance, achieve rapid economic and social development.
Through this blueprint, Africa has continued efforts to overcome the persistent problems of underdevelopment.
Although the regional blocs never work as well as they should, nevertheless, this is the only step in the right direction.
The introduction of machines with the invention of the Printing Press by Johannes Gutenburg in the year 1438 and the steam engine by Thomas Savery in the year 1698, later on adopted by John Stevenson in the year 1812-13 to the pulling of the train, meant that the era of the 4 ½ million years since the evolution of the homo sapien sapien of producing by human muscle (the hoe, the machete, the hand-held hammer) and by animal muscle (the horse, the donkey, the oxen), was now being replaced by the technology of producing by machines.
Machines, unlike the human and beast muscle, operate more efficiently and produce on a mass-scale. Once you produce on a mass-scale, you must also handle the issue of the market. Who will buy what you produce and on a large scale? That is why the Lagos Plan of Action was correct. Its products, the Regional Economic Communities, should be developed and perfected.
It is good that they have evolved into the CFTA the Abuja Treaty of the 1991 before that. It should be streamlined, facilitated with infrastructure and imbalances should be addressed. It is the only way to survive in the modern World. A strong and big African Market will enable us to credibly negotiate for Market access with the other big markets of China, the USA, India, Japan, Russia etc. Ija turye kumwe, biri aine ekyakurebireho (the one who invites you for a meal expects something in return).
Similarly, I wish to thank the organizers of the Lome Initiative for continuing the spirit of the Lagos Plan of Action.
In Uganda, under the leadership of the NRM Government, health has been one of the priority areas of focus as a pre-requisite to economic development.
We have continued to improve health services with emphasis on immunization and reproductive health programmes, in addition to taking health services nearer to the people. We rehabilitated several Health Units, including Referral Hospitals. Our focus now is on efficiency and effectiveness in delivery of health services, including increased availability of drugs in health facilities – in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25th September, 2015 (A/RES/70/1).
Access to “reliable, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines, medical products and vaccines” is a vital element of the Universal Health Coverage adopted in Agenda 2030. The most decisive health intervention we made, was the introduction of the Universal Immunization in 1987. That is how the population of Uganda grew from 14 million to now 42 million.
Achieving better goals, has, however, been hampered by a number of challenges including the trafficking of counterfeit, substandard and falsified medicines and health products. This is a crime against humanity and a huge risk for countries all over the world. Every country must work individually and collectively to eliminate it as soon as possible. Why?
Counterfeit medical products pose a considerable threat to human health and well-being, worldwide as:
They may cause harm to patients and fail to treat the diseases for which they were intended.
They may lead to loss of confidence in medicines, healthcare providers and health systems;
Substandard and falsified medical products contribute to antimicrobial resistance and drug-resistant infections.
In addition to the human cost of counterfeit medicines, many countries have realized that there has been the involvement of transnational organized crime in this traffic and increasing number of cases indicate that, this, in turn, is financing terrorist activities, thus, posing a serious concern to global security. Counterfeit medicines are smuggled onto the market using the same routes and techniques as drugs, weapons and human trafficking. Therefore, this problem cannot be solved by individual countries.
We have also put in place the East African Community Medicines Harmonization program under the EAC and the African Medicines Agency under NEPAD; but, despite these efforts, the problem of counterfeit medicines persists.
Formulation of stringent regulatory mechanism, information sharing and working together to combat the vice, which has been identified as one of the ways of tackling drug trafficking, must be supported and implemented by all of us.
The decisive call, goes to all leaders on the Continent to work together and form a system that is managed and regulated by ourselves. Additionally, we must invest in research and development of health related technologies and promote innovation of new products, where possible.
Scientists on the Continent must also collaborate on common health concerns, share expertise and be financially supported to build capacity for production of quality and standard medicines rather than, completely, depending on sourcing externally. In so doing, we will safe-guard the population, create jobs for the youth and improve our economies and also lower the cost of the medicines because African labour is cheaper.
I am, therefore, here to support and join hands with our brothers and sisters of Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo, the Republic of the Congo and the Brazzaville Foundation, to launch the Lome Initiative which aims at stemming the traffic in counterfeit medicines by introducing legislation to criminalize this traffic, impose tougher criminal penalties and ensure vigorous enforcement of the legislation.
I call upon all African countries to join in the Initiative as we continue to push for shared socio-economic integration and transformation.