Story Written by Lily Palastri
The rock music industry has, since its inception, been closely linked with the usage of drugs. The stereotype of sex, drugs and rock n roll has been followed by many of the world’s richest, most famous and most successful musicians, to the point where recreational drug usage has been considered by many fans as a desirable pastime. The glamorisation of drugs through our music industry has, however, done little to help its fallen stars; Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix all died at the young age of 27 from drug overdoses. More recently, Amy Winehouse added her name to the long list of young stars that have fallen victim to the effects of long term drug usage.
The problem continues to worsen. However, as awareness of the dangers of recreational drugs improves, the anti-drug industry now has a new problem. Gone are the days when drug-related deaths were written off as “personal lifestyle choices” linked to recreational drug usage. Drug-related deaths are now increasingly being linked to the consumption of counterfeit medicines. The danger of counterfeit medicines is more apparent now that ever before. Earlier this year, a shocking report by the International Policy Network (IPN) revealed that fake malaria and tuberculosis drugs alone now cause around 700,000 deaths every year. The report also reveals that almost half of all medicines sold in Angola, Burundi and the Congo do not meet legal and medical requirements. Around two thirds of anti-malaria drugs sold in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam contain insufficient active ingredients.
The results of this survey are damning for countries across the world, as they seek to protect their citizens from the dangers of deadly diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Africa, a country that is plagued by humanitarian disasters and diseases such as these, is suffering considerably from this worldwide problem.
African musicians step up
As a result of the severity of the problem, Africa is looking to its own music industry to raise awareness of the threats posed by counterfeit medicines. Global police agency, Interpol, has called upon two of Africa’s biggest and most successful music stars, Youssou N’Dour and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, to help launch an international campaign against counterfeit medicine.
Senegalese singer and songwriter, Youssou N’Dour, made his name in the nineties. His duet with Nenah Cherry, Seven Seconds, put him on the world stage in 1994 and he has since been labelled by the Rolling Stones as “perhaps the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and wider Africa. He has also worked with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen. Youssou N’Dour is no stranger to taking a role in political issues either; he has been Senegal’s Minister for Tourism and Culture since April this year.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka can boast fame of equally high measures. Known in her native country of South Africa as the “Princess of Africa”, Yvonne has been a huge name in popular music for more than 20 years. She was responsible for international hits such as “Thank You Mr DJ”, “Burning Up” and “Back on my Feet”, and is also well-known for her connections with everyday people as well as with South African royalty.
The decision to choose two famous African singers to front Interpol’s campaign was strategic, as the continent bears the heaviest toll of the effects of counterfeit medicines. However, their involvement is something that our own music industry could take example from. While there is no doubt that certain celebrities in the rock n roll industry make the consumption of recreational drugs appear more acceptable, there can be no justification for the trade of illegal, counterfeit medicines. Many lives depend on the prescription of legal drugs and the results of the IPN study are testament to the damage the black market industry is doing.
Interpol’s campaigning will benefit countries around the world, not just those in Africa. Africa receives more tourists each year than the Caribbean, Central America and South America combined. Interpol worries that many people – whether locals or tourists – unwittingly buy counterfeit medicines through unlicensed sources due to the high costs of legitimate medicines.
Music stars were “strategic”
The decision to use musical stars to front this campaign is also a strategic one. It is undeniable that celebrity culture has a huge sway on public opinion in influential developed countries such as the USA, UK and Canada. Musical culture is widely recognized as being able to reach the minds of the mainstream everyday person, which is key to raising awareness of the issue to the point where it becomes a political priority.
Interpol campaigns for countries to follow in the footsteps of Kenya, which has adopted ”gazettement of ports of entry for medical products as well as posting and training more pharmaceutical inspectors”, according to Amason Kingi, the country’s Minister for Industrialization.
Other music industries should follow
The growing problem of counterfeit medicines is aided by easy access through the internet, as well as a general acceptance and complacency towards drugs – both recreational and prescriptive. We already know from initiatives such as Live Aid the impact musicians can have on combatting global health and poverty issues. Our music industry, with all its powers of influence, now has a duty to follow in the footsteps of Youssou N’Dour and Yvonne Chaka Chaka to help raise awareness of this important problem.