Benin Makes Headway in Attempt to Reduce Deaths from Malaria

Friday, February 10, 2012

In the markets of west Africa, malaria drugs are on sale as openly as oranges and bananas. Trader Simone Adechinan claims to know her stuff. “With these,” she says, producing a beige box marked Chloroquine Phosphate, “you want to take six tablets a day for a week, then pause for a week and take paracetamol, then start again.” She issues the dubious advice without seeing the patient or referring to a doctor’s prescription. And she sells the box of 100 tablets – which has no manufacturer’s name – for 1,000 CFA francs ($2).

Last week, police swooped on the stalls of Adechinan and dozens of other pill traders in the market serving Benin’s political capital, Porto Novo. They confiscated her brightly packaged malaria medicines and antibiotics. Getting new stock from neighbouring Nigeria was easy enough, but she has now reduced the size of her display so she can quickly pack up if the police come back. “They [the police] are trying to put us out of business,” she complains.

They are indeed. Last month, scientists warned in the Lancet that theuncontrolled sale of counterfeit and substandard drugs is undermining years of efforts to reduce deaths from malaria. Not only do informal traders generally not see the patient, they are untrained, their goods lie for hours in 30C temperatures, and there is no guarantee that the tablets on sale contain the active ingredients printed on the packaging.

Malaria is the leading cause of death in Benin – a small, former French colony of 9 million people, dwarfed by neighbouring Nigeria and dependent for income on cotton and pineapple production, and on spin-offs from cross-border trade. Here, attaining most of the millennium development goals is a far-off dream.

Nevertheless, the government is making headway in attempts to reduce deaths from malaria. As well as the police raids on traders, last year it declared that treatment for the mosquito-borne parasite would be free in public clinics and hospitals. Knowing that the move would create unprecedented pressure on the country’s understaffed and thinly spread health facilities, the government went a step further, enlisting an army of ordinary citizens in the battle against preventable diseases like malaria.

Source: The Guardian (link opens in a new window)

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