Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi is carrying the flag for third-world countries that are being used as dumping grounds for unproven, third-rate, or surplus medical drugs.
"Kenya condemns such practices, and we refuse to be used as guinea pigs," he recently told a congress of eye surgeons in Nairobi.
The Kenya government is leading the way in critically examining existing health legislation and is seeking the cooperation of other developing countries in fighting drug dumping, Mr. Moi said.
The main targets of Kenya's campaign are the big multinational drug companies based in the United States, Britain, West Germany, Switzerland, and other industrial countries.
In Kenya, Health Minister Arthur Magugu has been paying surprise visits to hospitals, clinics, and medical stores to find out what is going on. What he found was alarming.
At one mental hospital near Nairobi he found expired drugs still in stock, and extensive overstocking.
Mr. Magugu found large stocks of pentothal and fortified penicillin, which had expired as long ago as 1975, stocked in the hospital stores.
He warned doctors in charge of hospitals that they would be held responsible for overstocking.
Kenya's central medical stores have a budget of $1,080,000 for buying drugs and medical equipment. This has increased by some $300,000 over the past few years. Another $400,000 worth are sold privately. The drugs kept on hand are often found to be out of date.
Some 80 foreign companies are competing in the Kenya market, many using hard-sell methods. The representative of a big, reputable American drug firm said the trouble was there were few restrictions on the import of drugs in third-world countries, including Kenya.
Some drugs sold were third-rate because they had little documented evidence of efficiency, he said.
Some drugs when sold had only six months or so of life left. He agreed that the central stores were overordering and had a six-year stock, some of which would have to be thrown away.
A Nairobi newspaper, the Standard, has jumped in to support of Mr. Moi's campaign. "Independent research bodies have found that with the strict environmental and health controls, in the West, many manufactures turn to the third world, where such controls do not exist, to offload drugs and pesticides which have been banned in their own countries," the newspaper said.
"Promotion campaigns rely heavily on the gullibility of those people in developing countries who have been entrusted by their governments with approving the purchase of commodities. And there is, of course, the time-honored business practice known commonly as 'the kickback.'"