Benin, a West African country about the size of Pennsylvania, has a tumultuous history. The site of the former Dahomey Kingdom, a kingdom that experienced rapid growth due to its involvement in the slave trade, Benin has since faced colonization, war, strife, civil unrest and a flood of pseudo-pharmaceuticals. With such struggles, a country can react in perpetuation or recovery and Benin has chosen the latter. This is most noticeable in the recent progress against fake medicine in Benin.
Fake Medicine in Benin
The origin of the issue of fake medicine in Benin likely relates to the country’s impoverished state. Benin had the 27th lowest per capita GDP as of 2017, at approximately $2,300. In terms of medical intervention, Benin has been desperate for some time now. The CIA lists the risk for Beninese citizens contracting infectious diseases as very high. The diseases responsible for the highest percentage of illnesses are bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, dengue fever, malaria and meningococcal meningitis. Benin also faces struggles relating to HIV/AIDS, which resulted in 2,200 deaths in 2018.
As of 2016, the nation spent only about 4 percent of its GDP on the health sector. This lack of financing for government-sponsored health care left an opening for black market interference and fake prescription drugs quickly flooded stores and pharmacies. These drugs often have no active ingredient and do little to fight the diseases that marketing suggests they cure. Instead, they lead to a litany of new health issues, often causing ulcers and organ failure. People have linked over 100,000 deaths to fake medicine in Benin.
The Fight Against Fake Medicine
Corruption has been inherent in most of Benin’s history. The issue of fake medicine in Benin is simply another facet of the same problem. Thankfully, the country is taking steps to address the endemic nature of this devastating problem.
For all intents and purposes, the fight against fake medicine in Benin began in 2009 with the Cotonou Declaration. This declaration focused on addressing the rampant fake medicine black market at the international level, as opposed to limiting the fight to within Benin’s borders. The declaration called for a raised awareness of drug trafficking and a limiting of the freedoms that often occur for those involved. Unfortunately, not much changed following the Cotonou Declaration. Benin raised awareness, but only for a moment, and it did not take any legitimate steps to combat the issue.
True progress began with the launching of Operation Pangea 9, a government organization founded under Benin’s current president, Patrice Talon. The organization works as a task force, set on fighting the manufacturing and selling of fake medicine through raids and legislation. In 2017 alone, the organization seized over 80 tonnes of fake medicine in Benin. This serves as a sign of drastic progress. For comparison, in 2015, the organization seized only about four tonnes of contraband.
The seizures took place throughout a multitude of marketplaces in Benin, resulting in the arrest of over 100 fake medicine traders. These raids and seizures served as stage one of Operation Pangea 9’s plan to eliminate the distribution of fake medicine in Benin. It was extremely successful, yet only addressed a fraction of the issue.
After the success of the seizures, in order to prevent a lapse back into the country’s past, President Patrice Talon’s government went after the suppliers. Many knew that corruption thoroughly aided the success of the selling of fake medicine in Benin. In December 2017, the police staged a raid at the home of Mohammed Atao Hinnouho, a member of Benin’s parliament. The police seized hundreds of boxes of pseudo-pharmaceuticals and arrested Mohammed Atao Hinnouho. This raid led to the outing of a vast number of those involved in the illegal trade and sent a definitive message that no matter the sources or persons responsible, they would face justice.
As of 2019, the country almost entirely eradicated the issue of fake medicine in Benin. The shelves of grocery stores that once held fake medicine now stand empty, and open-air pharmaceutical markets are a thing of the past. People should take the way in which the Beninese government dealt so swiftly with this issue as an example, a sign of what is possible when a country properly focuses attention and resources. Although Benin requires more in terms of setting up a proper health care system, these advancements serve as a sign to the end of an endemic issue and should not be overlooked.
– Austin Brown