Some drugs are perfectly legal and essential in Tanzania

Tony Zakaria

THERE is an ongoing nationwide efforts to fight and eliminate the cultivation, distribution, the sale and use of banned substances called drugs, a rarity in African nations.

I do not know of any other country in Africa that has done what we are doing in Tanzania. Many make public proclamations when something happens in the drug trade, a few arrests, photo ops and then silence until another incident.

In this new Tanzania of Magufuli we are witnessing every provincial and district commissioner taking members of his/her peace and security committee and descending on villages to flush out those who cultivate marijuana and khat. We have seen members of the police forces acting on tips from members of the public and making numerous arrests to haul in illicit drugs worth a lot of money. More importantly, many of those involved have been apprehended and brought to answer various criminal charges.

Clearly some powerful feathers have been ruffled. And surprisingly, members of the government in opposition camp have been rather silent in applauding the efforts being undertaken by all provinces under the leadership of provincial and district authorities. Is this fight and the success so far not a good thing for the people of Tanzania? Anyway, politics aside, the government deserves praise for daring to tackle illegal drug trade. Some members of the public also deserve to be commended for not protecting drug dealers in their midst.

Perhaps it is a measure of the confidence in their government that they are willing to come forward with information that has resulted in multiple arrests. I just wonder though how so many acres of marijuana and khat were being planted, fertilised, irrigated and harvested without authorities knowing about it.

How is it possible village leaders did not know this kind of activity was going on in their areas? After harvest, the ‘grass’ must have been transported on our roads. The police did not know about it? Or were some made blind with right incentives? Just thinking aloud. Many well-wishing Tanzanians would like to see the government succeed in this endeavour.

Smoking bhang is not okay in Tanzania despite what the young of today feel about it. People acting under the influence have been known to perpetrate crimes in our society. And as for hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, ordinary Tanzanians would like to see the day their country becomes drug free.

We are beginning to see an epidemic of drug addiction in urban areas. Cocaine is not aspirin that one can just take by mouth whenever the person has a headache. Likewise heroin is not penicilin for injection in case of bacterial infection.

Even if it was, its use would require a prescription from a licensed and trained medic. One would not be buying the stuff in secrecy and administering on street corners under unsanitary conditions. I recently attended a workshop to train pharmacists how to carry out drug inspections at facilities that stock and dispense medicines and other medical supplies for human use.

Obviously during their inspections, were they to stumble on illegal drugs, they would know exactly what to do to turn the inspection into an investigation involving security organs of the state. Tanzania has laws that prohibit the storage and sale of medicines and medical substances anywhere else except in premises inspected and given permits for this purpose.

There is a government organ in form of the Pharmacy Council devoted to upholding and maintaining the highest standards of professionalism in carrying out the business of pharmaceutical services.

If you ever find medicines being stored in a hot and stuffy warehouse containing alcohol in 50cc sachets, you can bet that building has not been authorised for the business of pharmacy. Call the nearest department of health to dispatch a team of inspectors for action. They will descend on the premises and in no time they will confiscate the drugs, and take the owner to task for any offenses they discover. Storing medicines in the wrong place is not common. Every level of pharmaceutical services has a proscribed list of drugs allowed for sale or dispensing.

The primary level is the accredited drug dispensing outlet. These are authorised to stock and dispense a limited number of medicines. The people commonly refer to such outlets as drug shops or duka la dawa in Kiswahili. Accredited drug outlets are meant to serve rural and semi-urban areas where pharmacies are not available.

These outlets have made it possible for pharmacy services to reach underserved areas. If you see such a shop in the centre of your city, you know some people with vested interests have bent the law to suit an unseen need. Not everything is visible, even in the dispensing of medicines. The standard level of pharmaceutical services is the pharmacy.

This is where every medical drug and supply item can be stocked. Because of this, a pharmacy has a supervisor who ensures good storage conditions are adhered to, that medicines are not dispensed without prescription and dangerous drugs are kept under lock and key.

Most prescription drugs not dispensed at lower level shops can be sourced the pharmacy from a pharmacist. It is not enough to have a supervisor of a pharmacy. The pharmacy council requires regular inspection of pharmacies and other drug outlets.

Inspections are meant among other things, to make sure no expired drugs are stocked or dispensed, proper records are kept of all transactions, dispensing is done by trained staff medicines are stored properly. Wine and beer can be stored in cartons on the floor in a hot, dusty bar room.

However, medicines must be stored in shelves in a wet-ventillated room, preferably with air-conditioning. Whiskey and wine can be kept for years and the older varieties taste even better than fresh one from the distillery. Not so medicines. Prolonged storage can make them poisonous, only useful as an expensive way of killing cockroaches.

That meeting of drug inspectors from four provinces in the northern zone had 100% attendance. Hopefully this high attendance was caused by the desire of participants to learn how to be good inspectors. Or perhaps everyone invited came because these days there are few seminars and workshops due to austerity measures taken by president JPM.

There are but a few meetings now. One cannot pick and choose which to attend. Participants also learned ways to detect corrupt deeds from a presentation by the anti-corruption bureau, and the detailed legal sections governing the registration of personnel, premises and the operation of pharmacy business from a lawyer representing the officer of the auditor general. You see, there are many legal drugs licensed for sale in Tanzania for human consumption to alleviate pain and sufferings and treat various diseases.

For them there is no need to conduct nationwide campaign to catch traders, but require regional and local training so that pharmacy services are provided in a safe environment in accordance with existing laws.

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