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Malawi: fertile dumping ground

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By William Kumwembe & Richard Chirombo:

SIKWEYA— My stomach would be upset

It is a busy Saturday morning in Limbe, Blantyre’s commercial hub; trading is at its peak and money is changing hands.

Limbe market is a renowned source of imported second-hand clothes and other merchandise.

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Amid the commotion, 41-year-old Samuel Sikweya seats idle on a veranda of a Chinese national-run shop, from where he is plying his trade of selling second hand shoes.

Sikweya has been idle for a while now, his face buried in his thick palms.

Besides him is an almost empty bottle of Revin Natural Power SX High Energy drink which was recently banned by the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS).

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Sikweya says he realised that there was something wrong with the product even before laboratory technicians confirmed his worst fears.

“Whenever I consumed Revin Natural Power SX High Energy drink, my stomach would be upset and I would feel very hot in the stomach. The taste was also bitter,” he says.

The Limbe-based vendor, who is a father of two, says he, at first, thought the drink would boost his energies but got unjust rewards afterwards.

Spot checks in Limbe and other semi-urban markets show that the product is still on the market and in large volumes.

At Limbe Market, for example, wholesalers have hiked the price of the product, which was selling at K650 per bottle two months ago, to K700 per bottle; meaning that market forces are at play.

Surprisingly, MBS seems almost innocent of any sense of responsibility, believing, instead, in pre-certification.

No wonder, the standards body only acted on the issue of adulteration of the pre-certified Revin Natural Power SX High Energy drink after outside bodies smelt fish and banned the product.

MBS acting Director General, Willy Muyila, says the ban was effected following safety reports, associated with consumption of Revin drinks, from Uganda and Zambia and analytical tests undertaken by the MBS and Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Board (PMPB).

“The analytical tests indicate that these Revin drinks are adulterated with Sildenafil Citrate,” says Muyila.

PMPB acting Registrar, Mphatso Kawaye, confirmed that the substance in question is restricted.

“Some of the adverse effects include abnormally raised or lowered blood pressure, chronic heart failure, prolonged painful erection, heart attack, respiratory depression, blurred vision, nose-breeding, intense sweating, increased heart rate, among others.

“This implies that the presence of this medicine in the above stated energy drinks poses a health hazard to unsuspecting consumers,” Kawaye says.

Preliminary research findings, which College of Medicine (CoM) chemistry lecturer Ibrahim Chikowe and Malawi University of Science and Technology physics lecturer and CoM PhD fellow Thomson Msiska unveiled to Times, indicate that the product is adulterated with Sildenafil Citrate.

According to Msiska, consumers were given a product whose ingredients they did not fully know.

“Let me say that Sildenafil is not a bad drug; but it has to be taken under doctors’ recommendation,” Msiska says.

Revin is not the only prohibited product entering Malawi through uncharted routs.

Other products include consumables, cosmetics, soaps and lotions, which continue to find their way into Malawi from neighbouring countries.

CONDEMNED—Revin Natural Power SX High
Energy drink

This could mean that, to some extent, MBS seems incapable of safeguarding its own territory.

Nevertheless, that is not a big problem.The problem is that, even after pre-certifying a product, its officials seem not to be under any obligation to follow through.

That could be the reason there is an endless procession of harmful foreign products that are being consumed at will, albeit with negative health consequences.

In February, the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) intercepted 487 bales of sugar concealed in five truckloads of salt that were being smuggled into the country through Mwanza Border.

Earlier, MRA had just impounded a truck loaded with smuggled beer products from Zambia at Mchinji Border.

Malawi—relatively undersized when compared to neighbours Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique—is, ironically, the destination of a thousand-plus condemned products.

The country continues to suffer from a negative trade balance due to insatiable appetite for foreign goods and continued reliance on imported inputs for production.

It is as if manufacturers, pressed by quality products from elsewhere, have found the easy way out.

The predictable outcome, unfortunately, has been the presence of too many products on the market-albeit with little health benefits.

And, as they say, conformity has a negative effect even on positive minds.

A typical example is Revin drinks, which flooded the market on the pretext that they were energy drinks when, in fact, there was more in them than met the eye.

Consumers Association of Malawi Executive Director, John Kapito, blames the situation on the country’s porous borders.

“Malawi has seen itself becoming a dumping site for substandard products. This is worrisome for the country.

“It is a big challenge that institutions which were set to safeguard consumers are sleeping on the job. We are killing our own people and, if we are not careful, will continue killing our own people,” Kapito says.

Director of Trade in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Wiskes Nkombezi, acknowledges the extent of the problem but is quick to say this is the reason the government introduced the Buy Malawian Strategy.

“The idea is to promote the local industry through the promotion of quality.

“Overtime, with certification and other processes followed, local consumers will appreciate that locally produced products and services are equally good,” he says.

But the government-championed initiative is yet to bear tangible results as, apart from an influx of condemned products entering the country, Malawi remains a predominantly importing nation.

According to the Reserve Bank of Malawi’s 2018 third quarter economic report, Malawi’s trade balance worsened as imports growth outpaced exports.

Malawi’s trade balance worsened to minus $525.1 million from a deficit of $419.6 million in the second quarter. The position was higher than a deficit of $372.3 million recorded in the third quarter of 2017.

Whatever the case, Revin was pre-certified and consumers thought what was declared is what they would get.

The product just made their existence monotonous and it is possible that other consumers will never travel back to normal health. Time will tell.

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