The Deputy Minister for Health, Mahama Asei Seini, says the government will immediately initiate a probe to find workers of the Traditional Medicine Practice Council (TMPC) who licensed a non-existing herbal medicine.
“The government, and by extension, the Ministry of Health has taken a keen interest in this documentary and will launch an immediate investigation into key revelations of the documentary, to ascertain which of the staff members at the TMPC failed to do due diligence in the licensing of this fake manufacturing company,” Mr Mahama said this on Thursday, September 14, 2023, at a public forum organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa.
The public forum, held at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre in Accra, was themed Media and Herbal Medicine Advertising in Ghana.
To test how robust regulations on the registration and promotion of herbal medicine in the country is, The Fourth Estate prepared a mixture of three popular soft drinks – Malt, Coca-Cola, and Fanta, to create Macofa Herbal Mixture, a non-existent medicine.
The team had sought and received licence from the TMPC for Krodwoa Herbal Enterprise to produce Macofa Herbal Mixture.
The TMPC is the statutory institution of the Ministry of Health mandated by the Traditional Medicine Practice Act 2000, Act 575 to regulate Traditional and Alternative Medicine.
After TMPC had endorsed the fictitious herbal company and medicine, The Fourth Estate team set out to promote the product in the Ghanaian media.
Eight media outlets comprising radio, television and newspapers across four regions in the country marketed Macofa Herbal Mixture. The media platforms advertised the product as a panacea to all menstrual-related problems, impotence in men, infertility, and increased libido in men and women.
This was done without approval from the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).
The Deputy Minister, therefore, said there might be many companies in the country “producing dangerous concoctions” for the unsuspecting public.
He said that the TMPC staff found culpable after the investigations would be brought to book.
“I can assure you that those found culpable after the investigations will face the full rigours of the law, to serve as a lesson to other workers bent on flouting due process in the licensing of manufacturing companies,” he said.
Several stakeholders at the forum expressed concern about the revelations in The Fourth Estate documentary and stressed the need for a collaborative effort to solve the problem.
Commending the investigative piece as “an important contribution to public health and public knowledge,” the Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr George Sarpong, said it is crucial for regulators to collaborate to end the growing concern of fake herbal products in the Ghanaian market.
“We’ve had discussions with the FDA, especially on cigarette advertising and we think we need to work together on these issues. NMC had a major state-of-the-art equipment that has gone down. NCA has started something that we are collaborating on. It seems to me that the collaboration is going to be a very useful tool for these things.”
He added that the FDA cannot monitor all the 600 radio stations and the many emerging media channels in the country. As such, the Commission and the other stakeholders need to rely on NCA’s equipment.
The Head of Complaints at the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA), Mr Benjamin Akoto, said social media platforms have become very influential in the advertisement of fraudulent products.
“Aside the traditional media outlets that we know, social media has become very powerful now,” he said.
He told participants at the forum that they would be “surprised” at the kind of products readily available on some apps and online shops.
He said that the CPA is committed and would be available when needed to help solve the problem.
The Executive Director of the Advertising Association of Ghana, Mr Francis Dadzie, said his outfit, for years, and to no avail, has been lobbying Parliament to pass the Advertising Bill.
He emphasised that because of the inadequate resources available to the FDA, the Authority cannot appropriately monitor the space.
“So, they [FDA] expect the goodwill of we the citizens and the media owners to help protect our own citizens. Because you are somewhere doing this advert, you don’t know the relation of yours who will go and take that medication and have issues somewhere,” he said.
According to the Head of Drugs and Herbal Medicine Registration Directorate at the FDA, Mr Samuel Asante Boateng, the processes herbal medicines go through before they are allowed to be advertised are rigorous.
“The FDA will be doing the public a dishonour and, in fact, not going with the mandate of public health and safety if we just allow anything in bottle without scientific investigation to prove its functions,” he said.
He, however, said the authority needs the support of other stakeholders to ensure the space is sanitised.
Mr Boateng said the NCA’s state-of-the-art equipment will be crucial in ensuring this is done. He pointed out that the FDA would share some approved adverts with the media regulators. This, according to him, would allow them identify unsanctioned advertisements seamlessly.
He added that the FDA is aware of how pervasive this phenomenon is and entreated the media to follow all the required regulations before airing any advertisement: “To the media, we have actually added a script. You need to ensure that the script is there and it is a guide. And to know whether to air it or not.”
He said it is highly possible that members of the public may find themselves resorting, unknowingly, to such unapproved herbal medications. As a result, he entreated everybody to be on guard.
“We are all patients and therefore we need all of us to collaborate and make sure that we are all on the same path.”
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