"Who cares? It's just blacks dying!" said a businessman in India.

2015-06-27 21:47

In my personal blog, mbindwane.com, I wrote a story a year ago that continues to bother me to this day. In May 2013 an India-based generic-drug manufacturer Ranbaxy Laboratories pleaded guilty to seven US federal criminal counts of selling inferior drugs with a deliberate intention for corruption and to defraud. Ranbaxy also failed to report that its drugs didn't meet specifications and made intentionally inaccurate statements to the U.S. government.

Ranbaxy sold generic medications for everything from minor infections to serious items as AIDS. It knew that the medication or drugs had compromised efficacy and were not anywhere near as effective as they should have been.

Fortune Magazine, conducted an extensive expose' on the shocking and disturbing activities in Ranbaxy, (http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2013/05/15/ranbaxy-fraud-lipitor/).

Ranbaxy's website boasts the following; "In South Africa, we are engaged in the sale and distribution of generic prescription products in the healthcare market. We are ranked No. 6 amongst generic companies. Additionally, we offer high quality, affordable Anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to patients in Africa, supporting governments in their efforts to control HIV/AIDS."

Since 1996, Ranbaxy has been supplying the following drugs in the South African market; with up to 99 Molecules including; Levofloxacin, Cefpodoxime Proxetil, Clarithromycin, Atorvastatin, Co-amoxiclav, Paracetamol, Amoxicillin, Topiramate, Prednisone, Cilastatin & Imipenem, Tripolodine, Cefuroxime Axetil, Fluconazole, Sertraline, Diphenhydramine, Chlorampheneramine, Ibuprofen, Simvastatin, Ranitidine.

Ranbaxy has presence in Therapeutic Segments: Anti-infectives, Central Nervous System (CNS), Cardiovascular, Over-the-Counter (OTC), Pain management, Gastrointestinal, Cough & Cold, Anti-histamines, Anti-retrovirals (ARVs).

The US Justice Department's detailed report of what occurred inside Ranbaxy contains a shocking account of its actions as told by witness, Dr. Kathy Spreen, who was the company's executive director of clinical medicine and pharmacovigilance, testified that, "Dr Thakur knew the drugs weren't good. They had high impurities, degraded easily, and would be useless at best in hot, humid conditions. They would be taken by the world's poorest patients in sub-Saharan Africa, who had almost no medical infrastructure and no recourse for complaints. The injustice made him livid." Thakur became the whistleblower.

"Ranbaxy executives didn't care..., Dr. Kathy Spreen continued in her testimony,... and made little effort to conceal it."

In a conference call with a dozen company executives discussing the impurities and lack of efficacy found in the medicines, one executive brushed aside her fears about the quality of the AIDS medicine Ranbaxy was supplying for Africa. "Who cares?" he said, according to Spreen. "It's just blacks dying anyway ... "

Ranbaxy in 2013 agreed to $500 million (R6 billion) in fines, forfeitures and penalties in a settlement with the US Justice Department, no arrests and no WHO advisory to warn global community about Ranbaxy. This remains the highest ever fine to be imposed to a drugs company worldwide.

Sonke Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd markets and distributes Ranbaxy's generic anti-retroviral (ARV) medication, was awarded in 2010 a R913.5 million of the R4.28 billion national ARV tender. Sonke supplied the South African Government with ARVs for two years.

Sonke Pharmaceuticals is a joint venture between Ranbaxy (Pty) Ltd and Community Investment Holdings (CIH). It is the second-largest local supplier of generic antiretroviral (ARV) medication in the country. Ranbaxy India owns 68% of the business.

This story made the ANC manifesto promise of a State Pharmaceutical Company even more urgent that medication will no longer be outsourced to such despicable companies. The State owned pharmaceutical company that will manufacture and distribute medicines and drugs remains urgently needed more than ever.

This story however has another important element to it. Whistleblowers and financial compensation. Thakur went on to earn over $40 million for his efforts. For anti-corruption to work fast, South Africa ought to look at compensation for whistleblowers from the proceeds of recovered funds or fines imposed or forfeitured by culprits.

Bongani 'Bo' Mbindwane

on twitter @mbindwane

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