Kenya: Red flag as cancer, childbirth medicines, alcohol fail quality tests

Several key cancer and childbirth medicines, dewormers and even popular alcoholic spirits have failed crucial quality tests.

The latest five-year drug quality analysis by the University of Nairobi shows some of these products are already in the markets or at pre-entry levels.

The most affected in volumes are labour-inducing medicines, adhesive bandages, dewormers, and anti-cancers in that order. All submitted alcoholic spirits also failed quality tests.

However, cancer medicines are of special interest due to their high cost and a reported steep increase of the disease in the country.

The university’s, Drug Analysis and Research Unit (DARU), one of three laboratories accredited for tracking drug quality in the country had analyzed 1,972 samples.

Ten percent of the sampled anticancer medicines had failed the quality tests. Of concern was the failure of doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide injectable anti-cancers.

These are some of the most widely used medicines in the country due to their ability to treat different types of cancers.

Doxorubicin, which comes in different brand names, is used for the treatment of breast, bladder, kidney, ovary, thyroid, stomach, lung, bone, nerve tissue, joints, and soft tissue cancers.

Cyclophosphamide is used alone or in combination with other medications to treat blood, eye, immune system, nerve cells, ovary and breast cancers.

If local data is reliable, cancer is estimated to cause about 33,000 deaths annually. This is more than eight times the number of deaths, 4,000 caused by Covid 19 in Kenya in the last 15 months.

The report was published in May 2021 in the current but late issue of the East and Central African Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Also tragic, the study reports almost 40 percent of tested samples of labour-inducing medicines were of poor quality.

Known as uterotonics these medicines are also used to reduce heavy bleeding after a woman gives birth. Heavy bleeding after birth is one of the major causes of maternal deaths in Kenya.

The other type of medicines, with high failure rates, the report shows are drugs and devices used to stop bleeding.

Known as hemostatics they are mainly used to stop bleeding in minor wounds. These may include adhesive bandages such as band-aids and other topically applied medicines.

“High failure rates were recorded for uterotonics, 37.5 percent, hemostatics 33 percent, anthelmintics 17 percent, and anticancer at 10.5 percent,” says the study.

It is also bad news for alcohol lovers with all the presented drinking spirits reported to have failed the quality tests.

“All the samples of spirit drinks failed the test for alcohol content,” says the study. Hit by the high cost of their favourite beers, data shows many Kenyans are shifting to stronger alcoholic spirits.

The good news though is findings that the now incredibly popular sex-enhancing drugs were all found to be of good quality.

All the 23 samples of erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs complied with quality tests, says the study.

“This class of drugs gained popularity during the study period with cheap generics becoming readily available.”

To capitalize on the growing market the authors say several samples of sildenafil (Viagra) and tadalafil were submitted to DARU for analysis, for the first time.

Despite the recorded failures, the authors however say this was an improvement over previous reports though it showed local manufacturers losing market to imports.

The presented samples consisted of 21.5 percent locally manufactured and 78.2 percent imported products.

This, the report say is of concern as it implies local manufacturers may be ceding ground to imports against stated government policy.

The report is available here:

About Gatonye Gathura 142 Articles
Science Journalist

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