Two journalists of The Fourth Estate, Kwaku Krobea Asante and Adwoa Adobea-Owusu, have been named among winners of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Media Africa Award for Local Journalism.
Their story, Dangerous Endorsements: Exposé on Herbal Medicine Advertising in Ghana, was chosen out of almost 300 submissions from 22 countries in Africa and across the anglophone and francophone regions, according to a statement from KAS Media Africa which is the Regional Media Programme for Sub-Sahara Africa of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
In the statement, the jury of the KAS Media Africa Award for Local Journalism described The Fourth Estate’s documentary on herbal medicine advertisement as “outstanding in topic, realisation and in the way it keeps viewers in suspense – and in shock – as it shows how the fake product is doing in the very real business of herbal medicine.”
Kwaku Krobea Asante and Adwoa Adobea-Owusu have expressed their gratitude for the award and stated that they are greatly honoured to have their work recognised as outstanding at the continental level.
“We hope this brings the needed focus to improving regulation of the production, licensing and advertising of herbal medicine in Africa because it is a major source of healthcare for our people,” Mr Asante added.
In September 2023, The Fourth Estate published an investigative piece that exposed how eight media platforms across four regions in Ghana marketed a ‘fake’ herbal medicine, Macofa Herbal Mixture which was presented as medicine that could cure all menstrual-related problems, impotence in men, infertility, and low libido in men and women.
Macofa Herbal Mixture was prepared in the office of The Fourth Estate by mixing three popular soft drinks in Ghana – Malt, Coca-Cola and Fanta. The brand name was coined from the first two letters of the names of the soft drinks.
Without registration or approval from the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), The Fourth Estate sought advertising spots for the ‘herbal’ mixture. This was to test widespread concerns that some media outlets put the lives of consumers at risk by validating and advertising unlicensed herbal products and traditional medicine practitioners without the required due diligence.
The medicine was advertised at media outlets comprising radio and television stations, as well as newspapers.
The investigation also shed light on how the Traditional Medicine Practice Council (TMPC) licensed The Fourth Estate’s fake herbal medicine manufacturing company, 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. However, the institution failed to live up to its mandate.
This investigation sparked a national debate on the need for the media to do due diligence when advertising products.
Following the publication of the documentary, the FDA said it was going to take action against media houses and influencers who advertise unapproved and fake medicines to protect public health and safety.
In a letter to The Fourth Estate, the FDA stated: “The FDA wishes to state that it employs a number of regulatory tools available to it, as provided for under the Public Health Act 851 and other regulatory instruments and assure you that the necessary actions have been taken to bring the media houses identified in your exposé to compliance.”
The Ministry of Health said it was immediately going to initiate a probe to find workers of the TMPC who licensed Macofa.
The Deputy Minister said there might be many companies in the country “producing dangerous concoctions” for the unsuspecting public but promised to ensure that those found culpable will be brought to book.
The documentary received commendation from the Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission, Mr George Sarpong, who described it as “an important contribution to public health and public knowledge,” and the Executive Director of the Advertising Association of Ghana, Mr Francis Dadzie, as well as several other stakeholders and the general public.
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