Every year on March 15, the global community observes World Consumer Rights Day. Coordinator of the event is Consumers International and with over 220 member organisations in 115 countries, it has over the years sought to build a powerful international consumer movement to help protect and empower consumers.

The theme for this year’s World Consumer Rights Day is “Unethical Drug Promotion”. In keeping with this, the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Business Development has been taking several steps to ensure that this does not occur in Barbados.

Director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), Terry Bascombe explained that his division was responsible for labeling standards of commodities, which would include pharmaceutical drugs.

“We have a role to ensure that these products, once placed in the public’s domain, are properly and correctly labeled. Personally, I think the theme of World Consumer Rights Day is timely and relevant, given the work of the DCCA, and the fact that the unethical promotion and distribution of drugs in itself infringes on the rights of consumers,” Bascombe said.

He added that such rights included: the right to safety, the right to be informed and the right to make a choice. According to him, another aspect which was very relevant to the Ministry and the DCCA was that of recalls.

“Under section 41 of the Consumer Protection Act, the Minister responsible for Commerce has the responsibility to recall drugs on a compulsory basis, if she thinks that these drugs are of a form that they can cause danger to humans when consumed. Under Section 47 1 of the same act, the DCCA has the responsibility to ensure that the requirements for voluntary recall are enforced.

“If a company recalls a drug on a voluntary basis then it had a limited time period to notify the Minister which drug has been recalled and the nature of the defect or why that drug might be dangerous. That information would have to be made available to the public and there is also provision for the public to become compensated if they have to return these products.”

The unethical promotion of drugs is an issue which is also monitored closely by the Veterinary Services Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Senior Veterinary Officer, Dr. Mark Trotman said he had some concerns about the accessibility to certain drugs.

“Veterinary drugs, even though labeled for that specific use only, are in essence identical to human drugs in chemical composition. Tranquilisers, sedatives and anesthetics are a good example. The same effect they have on animals they would have on humans and therefore can be used in a criminal context on humans. This is possible because the controls and ethics associated with the sale and use of these drugs maybe not as stringent as human drugs; they are readily more available.”

Dr. Trotman said his department would continue to play a supportive role with the DCCA to sensitise the public about the risks and dangers associated with the use of prescription veterinary drugs.

“The Veterinary Services Unit is responsible for granting licenses for the importation of all veterinary drugs, especially those of biological origin. We monitor what is brought into the country and what cannot enter and who can bring in which type of drug,” he said.

Given its emphasis on ensuring fair play for both consumers and businesses, the Ministry of Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Business Development recently established a Consumer Protection Committee. The Chairman of the Committee is retired Permanent Secretary Elsworth Young, who assures Barbadians that the committee would be paying close attention to these matters to ensure that nothing is done to harm the health of the general public through exposure to unethical practices in pharmaceutical products.

“A couple years ago a study was done by an expert in pharmaceuticals in the CARICOM Secretariat. It found that Barbados had the highest per capita consumption of pharmaceutical drugs in the world and this was a source of concern. Consequently, any action that is taken to sensitise the general public to protect themselves from the unethical practices in the marketing and promotion of consumer pharmaceuticals, would be of benefit to the community,” he said.

Mr. Young added that the committee would focus on educating the public on all possible consumer related issues.

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