Undercover journalists expose Ghana’s COVID-19 scam

Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Ghana's investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas

Amidst the increasing number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases globally, many quack doctors in Ghana are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit the citizens by selling fake coronavirus cures, an investigation has shown.

The award-winning journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, in an undercover documentary for BBC Africa Eye, exposed how quack doctors have been exploiting the fear created by the pandemic to make money off the Ghanaian people.

The documentary, dubbed “Corona quacks and thieves in Ghana”, exposes unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the pandemic to make their own gains.

Mr Anas, in the undercover investigation, exposed a COVID-19 medical scam said to be worth tens of thousands of dollars, many of whom are peddling fake uncertified drugs to unsuspecting people claiming they have the cure for the disease.

The world, since December, has been battling the scourge of COVID-19 pandemic which has infected over 10 million people with more than 500, 000 deaths.

While cases in Africa are still on an increase, Ghana, as of July 1, has recorded 17, 741 confirmed cases with 112 deaths.

Mr Anas, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the investigation is to tell the untold side of the stories of the COVID-19 pandemic because that affects almost everyone.

He said the documentary was not out to discredit the traditional herbal treatment, but to shed light on some of the poisonous substances peddled by unscrupulous people who were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fake cure

In the documentary, Mr Anas focuses on two case studies: the “Abdellah brothers” and COA FS.

Posing as the brother of a man infected with the deadly coronavirus, Mr Anas sets out to find so-called cures, to expose the men who sell them, and to test the liquids for potentially dangerous and toxic ingredients.

The Abdellah brothers, both known as Abdellah Jr and Abdellah Sr are the masterminds of a COVID-19 scam which was worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Mr Anas said during the lockdown in Ghana, the brothers produced hundreds of bottles of a product labelled “Covid Cure,” which had a fake FDA number on its label.

They claimed people took their children out of hospital quarantine to take their drug. They also claimed to be actively treating a number of coronavirus patients.

They attempted to sell the undercover team 100 bottles of their concoction for 150,000 cedis [almost $26,000].

“We tested their concoction with the Ghana Standards Authority. It failed to meet the standards for human consumption and was contaminated with bacteria, mould and traces of phosphine. These can all be dangerous, depending on the dosage.

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The two men are currently being questioned by the FDA, Mr Anas told PREMIUM TIMES.

When challenged with the report from the investigation, the brothers told BBC they are in the process of licencing their product and that it is for testing purposes only. They denied selling it to anybody.

The other culprit was a manufacturer of a registered food supplement, known as COA FS.

The documentary established that the drug was licenced for general welfare.

Mr Anas said there is no regulatory basis for it to be marketed as a cure or a treatment for any disease in Ghana. Despite this, the creator of the product, Samuel Ato Duncan, has repeatedly claimed it can treat various diseases.

After initially announcing COA FS is a “potential cure for coronavirus” in March 2020, Duncan reversed his stance on 15 March – issuing a statement claiming the product “is not a cure for coronavirus.”

The investigation found that a COA FS agent, Kafui Alornu, continued to market the drug as a cure for the virus after this disclaimer.

Mr Alornu sold a bottle of COA FS to the undercover reporters and told them it can “heal” and “cure” coronavirus patients.

“He gave us instructions on how to administer the product for this purpose.

We tested two samples of COA FS which we bought with the Ghana Standards Authority, which is ISO certified and one of the best laboratories in the country. The samples failed to meet the standards for human consumption. They were found to be contaminated with quantities of mould which were “too numerous to be counted,” he said.

Mr Anas explained that there were also traces of phosphine in the product.

“Depending on how much is consumed, these contaminants have the potential to cause ill health.

The test results, on two samples, are not definitive. Further tests will be needed to assess the safety of the product, he added.

Harmful effects

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 100,000 people die as a consequence of fake medicines every year in Africa.

These substances from counterfeit, substandard, falsified or uncertified drugs may cause harm to patients and fail to treat the diseases for which they were intended.

It could also lead to medical complications such as organ failure or death.



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