Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Benyamin Cooke | Counterfeit goods – a threat to our health and safety

Published:Monday | January 6, 2020 | 12:18 AMBenyamin Cooke/Guest Columnist
The World Health Organization says one of every ten medicines sold in developing countries is either fake or of poor quality.

“Wha sweet a mout’ hat a belly” is a fittingly appropriate statement that reflects the reality and existence of counterfeit goods in Jamaica. This is so, as counterfeit goods are not subject to the regulatory standards and production norms that govern legitimate products. Of greatest concern is the fact that consumption of these counterfeit goods can pose significant health risks.

The infiltration of counterfeit goods is one of the largest underground industries in the world. In Jamaica, for the fiscal year 2017-2018, $376 million worth of counterfeit goods were seized at the nation’s ports, and with cheap overhead, high profits, and a cloak-and-dagger business style, these global black-market industries are here to stay.

For many, counterfeit goods are seen as a bargain, unknowing that it is a costly mistake, given the risks and ramifications often associated with these goods. The consumption of food and beverages and the use of pharmaceuticals, for example, may have serious and adverse effects on your health, and, in some cases, may be fatal. Additionally, counterfeiting and piracy are criminal activities whose proceeds are often used to support criminality in the underworld.

HEALTH RISK

The World Health Organization (WHO) says one of every 10 medicines sold in developing countries is either fake or of poor quality. This is worrying for our beautiful island, as items considered to pose health and safety risks are hidden but stored in plain sight.

A biblical reminder to our citizen comes from Revelation 10:9 “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey”. Counterfeit food, pharmaceutical, alcohol and other beverages will cause grave harm and may even lead to death.

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals have sailed their way on to our shores and have, in some instances, affected some individuals. This, however, should not come as a surprise, as WHO estimates that in developing countries, counterfeits comprise between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of the market value of drug sales.

Counterfeit drugs have been found to either contain the wrong dose of active pharmaceutical ingredients, or none at all. The reality is that these products make some of the world’s most dangerous diseases and viruses stronger by contributing to the development of drug-resistant strains.

This has the potential to cause great harm to our citizens and speaks to an urgent need to build greater awareness around the dangers of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

BORDER SECURITY

Headlines that speak to major busts in counterfeit goods would cause one to celebrate. However, that mood is short-lived when one thinks of how these got here in the first instance. This is a gentle reminder that any vulnerability within our borders leaves the country susceptible to health, economic and even greater national security challenges.

The truth is, border security is an essential component of national security and involves much more than just the movement of citizens across the world. As such, we must take every step to protect our borders and the citizens of Jamaica.

We cannot surrender our health and economy to the criminals who seek to infiltrate our country with counterfeit goods. We must, as our sacred obligation, seek to divert our citizens from harm’s way.

While we appreciate that border security is most functional when there is an adhocracy structure, it must contain continuously evolving policies, given the evolution of threats. A country that is built on the principles of border security is one that acknowledges safety as more important than personal ambitions, party preferences or political affiliations.

SOLUTIONS

Our nation is a nation of compassion; however, we are also a nation of laws and as such, stricter enforcement of IP laws is essential to curb the growing threat that counterfeiting and piracy poses to our society.

Additionally, more research is needed to determine the proportion and impact of sales of substandard or falsified products.

Public education for the mass and a change in mindset will have to take precedence as we seek to educate the population on identifying the effects of counterfeit goods on healthcare and on the economy.

In order to preserve Jamaica land we love, we must focus our attention on securing our borders and the health and safety of our beloved human resources.

Benyamin Cooke is a youth advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.