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[JUBA, SUDAN] Southern Sudan has embarked on a major programme to revamp its pharmaceutical supply system, with new laboratories and monitoring units to prevent the smuggling of counterfeit drugs into the region.

The once fully-operational drug supply system, which covered the whole area, went "down the drain" said Manyang Agoth, director-general of pharmaceutical services at the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan's Ministry of Health, referring to 21 years of devastating civil war that that followed the collapse of the Addis Ababa peace agreement in 1983.

"When war broke out the then-existing facilities — including fully-equipped laboratories and mini monitoring stations — were deserted. Everyone, including workers, sought refuge elsewhere."

The region will have to start from scratch, he added.

Lack of a supply chain has compelled the Southern Sudanese government to stockpile drugs in its stores and air-lift them during disasters such as floods, because of the poor infrastructure — including the state of roads.

When peace returned following the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Arab-dominated North and Christian-dominated South, Southern Sudan's reinstatement of the supply chain was intended to avoid a high death rate resulting from poor health facilities.

Established two years ago, the government's pharmaceutical taskforce has received close to US$70,000 in cash and another US$30 million in pledges from international organisations such as the Multi-Donor Trust Fund (a European Union consortium) and the government of Southern Sudan. Its budgetary allocation of US$30 million for research is the highest to a government department.

Five fully equipped laboratories have been provided by the German government.

"We have already set up three at Kaya, Nimule and Juba airport entry points — these are meant to monitor smuggling of counterfeit drugs into our markets," Agoth said, as unscrupulous businessmen were cashing in on the collapse of the pharmaceutical system, and the absence of monitoring systems, he said

The government will also set up a pharmaceuticals regulatory system.  

The strategy "does not only end at the establishment of laboratories and testing kits, it also involves ensuring the entire procurement and drug supply chain is fully operational and effective. This we will do once we attain independence and manage our own resources," said Agoth.

A referendum will be held in January 2011 in Southern Sudan, part of the North–South peace deal, to decide whether it fully separates from the North.