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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Who are Ghana's drug-peddlers?
By Emmanuel Acheampong Adomako
BBC NewsMaker in Accra

Kwaku Adusei
Kwaku Adusei says drug peddlers help the health of Ghanaians
The practice of drug-peddling - the illegal selling of unlicensed medicines - has been taking place in Ghana for many years.

The government is vowing to put an end to it. But is enough action being taken?

Although more usually I spend my time studying as a student, as a winner of the BBC's NewsMaker competition I wanted to raise the issue of drug-peddling in my country.

I travel on the bus from Kumasi to Accra, the capital - but this could be any journey, because you can be sure it will happen every time - a young man stands in the aisle to sell some kind of substance with what he claims are curative powers.

He tells the passengers that the small chalk-like twig in his hand can cure chronic headache, hyper-tension, breast cancer, piles, and sexual weakness.

And he convinces many to buy samples of the twig, costing between 5,000 and 10,000 cedis ($0.55-$1.10).

Urgency

Although drug-peddling is illegal in Ghana, in reality this is only the case in the law books.

Drug-peddlers endear themselves to the populous though their eloquence, ubiquity, and use of lucid language - which is devoid of medical jargon.

Dr Gladys Ashitey
The government wants to drive drug peddlers out of business
Dr Gladys Ashitey, Ghanaian deputy health minister
Moreover, in Ghana, one in four people live outside a 15km radius of a doctor. This makes drug-peddlers a much more attractive option.

One who makes his living this way is Kwaku Adusei. He sells home-made herbal medicines and is an executive of the Drug-Peddlers' Association at the Circle Bus Station in Accra.

He believes that drug peddlers "compliment" the activity of the national health service. Although untrained in any medical profession, he speaks with the authority of a doctor.

I ask him about the multiple treatments he claims his drugs perform, and he explains that many conditions have a single underlying cause.

"Sexual weakness, rheumatism, abdominal pain, piles and jaundice" are caused by the accumulation of phlegm in the blood, he says.

Another peddler sells a "leopard lotion" which he claimed would address the pain of a broken leg.

And also on sale at the bus station are boxed medicines from pharmaceutical companies, although sometimes the instructions are in a foreign language.

Public denouncing

Dr Alex Dodoo, one of Ghana's leading pharmacologists, believes drug-peddling poses a "formidable threat" to the health of Ghanaians.

Emmanuel Acheampong Adomako and drug peddler at the Circle Bus Station
Drug peddlers sell boxed medicines as well as natural supplements
In his office, he shows me a liquid sold by a drug peddler which was suspected to have killed someone - and was now being investigated by the police.

He also says that drug-peddling is not being tackled with the "required urgency."

But Dr Gladys Ashitey, one of Ghana's deputy health ministers, is more positive.

"The government wants to drive drug peddlers out of business," she says.

However, she adds that "the onus lies with the public to denounce them."

And she asserts that the planned full implementation of a national health insurance scheme would help curtail the problem - as people would make greater use of state healthcare.




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