Dr Kamamia Murichu. The award-winning pharmacist wants more life-saving medicines made affordable through parallel importation. (PHOTO: DAVID NJAAGA/ STANDARD)
Award-winning pharmacist says medicines can be made cheaper for Kenyans
An award-winning pharmacist wants more life-saving medicines made affordable through parallel importation. Kamamia Murichu bagged the Titans Nations-Building Award in Johannesburg, South Africa for finding a way to make expensive medicine available to ordinary Kenyans at lower prices through parallel importation. The 47-year-old University of Nairobi-trained pharmacist and the chairman of the Kenya Pharmaceutical Distributors Association now wants the Government to expand parallel importation of medicines to bring down prices of many medicines that are currently unaffordable to many Kenyan patients. “Many Kenyans are foregoing treatment and dying since medicines are very expensive, especially for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and kidney complications,” he said. Parallel importation takes advantage of the fact that international pharmaceutical firms usually sell their drugs at drastically different prices in different countries to maximise their profits. For instance, while the average wholesale price of one antibiotic for pneumonia costs Sh1,500 in the United Kingdom, it costs Sh9,500 in Kenya. READ MORE Busia children sue for injection gone terribly wrong Nandi County health office paid ‘fake’ doctor Sh150,000 per month South Korea raises bird flu alert as three more cases found at poultry farms Similarly, while a certain cancer medicine manufactured by a Swiss pharmaceutical company costs Sh60,000 in India, it costs over Sh200,000 in Kenya. The same price differences are reflected in many other crucial medicines. “Through parallel importation, I source the original medicines from markets where they are sold much cheaply than in Kenya. I then bring them to Kenyans at much lower prices than those sold by local agents of international pharmaceutical firms. That way, I enable more Kenyans to access original medicines at lower costs,” he says. Parallel importation of medicines is allowed by Kenyan law as well as the World Trade Organisation to enhance access to crucial life-saving drugs. But international pharmaceutical manufacturers and their official distributors in Kenya strongly oppose it, terming it an infringement of their commercial rights. According to Dr Murichu, who is also the secretary general of the East African Health Platform (EAHP), which advocates for health rights, Kenya has licensed only a few firms to do parallel importation of medicines, making the impact on medicine prices limited. “If more Kenyans are allowed to do parallel importation of medicines, prices will be forced down significantly, allowing more patients to access life-saving drugs at more affordable prices,” he says. Currently, the Ministry of Health, through the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, is working on regulations to guide parallel importation of medicines before more Kenyan firms are licensed to do the importation.