Harry Lime in Africa

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Remember Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in The Third Man (1949, dir. by Carol Reed)? For a reminder of this classic noir based on Graham Greene’s novella, check out the sewer chase scene (sublime notwithstanding what he is wading through). Or, perhaps, you might enjoy the American trailer with its quaint marketing of Anton Karas’ haunting score – “He’ll have you in a dither with his zither…”

Many of you will remember the horrible racket that Harry Lime was involved in. Lime stole penicillin and diluted it, reselling it at astronomical profit. In the process he maimed and killed thousands. I write all this because a colleague Franklin Cudjoe, who directs the IMANI Center for Policy & Education, has found very much the same thing happening in Africa.

Franklin’s report “blockquote>details the shocking burden of fake drugs in less developed countries. Fake tuberculosis and malaria drugs alone are estimated to kill 700,000 people a year.”

The report notes that counterfeit and substandard drugs

Can constitute one third of the drug supply in certain African countries. These dodgy drugs result in unnecessary death and increased levels of drug resistance…

Nearly half the drugs sold in Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, Burundi, and the Congo are substandard…

About two thirds of artesunate (anti-malaria) drugs in Laos, Myanmar Cambodia and Vietnam contain insufficient active ingredient…

Most fake drugs originate from China and India…

The fixes? Rather than tougher paper regulations, which can be gamed in countries that have challenges with corruption and will only make legitimate drugs more expensive, Franklin calls for more effective trademark systems and identity preservation systems to ensure that buyers are receiving the real thing. He also notes:

As we in Africa falter to institutionalise respect for trademark laws, we cannot allow counterfeiters to win by killing mostly our illiterate folks who have little information on the efficacy of standard medicines. A free press, free courts, and open trade regimes which allow technologies like www.Mpedigree.net [an identity preservation system] to succeed would actually increase the quality of medicines.

His is a great cause.