From Zero to Hero—Wholesalers Help Fight Counterfeits in Uganda

{Photo credit: MSH}Knud Rhyl was brought on board by SURE and NDA to help devise the new guidelines and inspection tool. Knud helped adapt international best practices to the Ugandan context. He is pictured presenting at the meeting with key wholesalers in Uganda.Photo credit: MSH

In Uganda, although wholesale and retail pharmacies are legally distinct, their practices are indistinguishable and their customer base overlaps. Wholesalers’ service should be business-to-business only, but they often sell to the public. This division of responsibility is crucial in assuring the quality and safety of drugs; without accountability, substandard and counterfeit medicines can too easily slip through the cracks. In Uganda, wholesalers will now take on the responsibility of assuring the quality and safety of drugs they supply, and medicine outlets will only be able to buy drugs from licensed wholesalers.  

In March 2013, Uganda's National Drug Authority (NDA) drafted and published new guidelines outlining good distribution practices for pharmaceutical products with support from the USAID-funded SURE program. SURE also worked with NDA to develop a new inspection tool that will enable the enforcement of good distribution practices. The guidelines are based on World Health Organization recommendations and define how pharmaceutical products must be handled—from their import or manufacture right up until the point they are given to patients. The guidelines seek to assure the quality of pharmaceutical products at every stage of the distribution process by defining the systems and procedures that should be in place. 

To meet good distribution practices, wholesalers will have to implement a variety of quality assurance measures including batch documentation and sales tracking. In the future, wholesalers will only be legally allowed to sell medicines to authorized medicine outlets. In turn, retail pharmacies will only be able to buy from licensed wholesalers. 

Preventing the operation of unlicensed medicine providers, coupled with the enforcement of wholesalers’ vs. retailers’ responsibilities, will go a long way to eliminate substandard and counterfeit drugs in the market.

By 2016, NDA will inspect all wholesalers to assess whether they meet the new requirements and ensure that they are familiar with Good Distribution Practices. If they decide not to make the investments to meet the new requirements, they will be forced to close shop. 

Speaking at a meeting organized to inform wholesalers about the new requirements, N. Anantharaman, the Chief Executive Officer of Abacus Pharma, one of Uganda’s leading pharmaceutical wholesalers, said the new practice would take wholesalers from"zero to hero."He elaborated by saying that previously, wholesalers did not have any quality systems in place, but now, in compliance with the guidelines, they will save lives by guaranteeing patients good quality medicines.

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