Ethiopia shuts down drugstore selling banned substances
By Elias Meseret | AP
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — (Washington Post) — A drugstore in Ethiopia that was selling banned substances to athletes across the road from the country’s main track stadium has been shut down pending an investigation, anti-doping authorities said Tuesday.
Ethiopia’s Anti-Doping Office confirmed that the pharmacy was offering the blood-boosting substance EPO after a preliminary investigation.
The store was shut down for three months pending a full probe, the office said, and the head of the pharmacy had his pharmaceutical license revoked for six months.
The preliminary investigation, carried out by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Sport, came in response to an undercover report by British newspaper The Guardian and German broadcaster ARD. They said their journalists found EPO was easily available at the pharmacy, which was offering the substance while the national athletics championships took place across the road at the Ethiopian National Stadium in May.
“Based on the media report, the Ministry conducted an investigation and has found out that the banned substance was found inside the pharmacy,” the anti-doping office said.
The news puts Ethiopia in the anti-doping spotlight once again after it was ordered by the IAAF and World Anti-Doping Agency to carry out more doping tests on its top athletes last year.
There are fears that banned substances are easily available in Ethiopia, just like East African neighbor Kenya, which has been hit by a big spike in doping over the last five years. That, coupled with weak anti-doping controls from authorities, has seriously undermined the distance-running success of the two countries.
The Ethiopian Athletics Federation initially dismissed the allegations by The Guardian and ARD as “vague and unsubstantiated.”
Ethiopian Anti-Doping Office director Mekonnen Yidersal told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the shutting of the store for three months was just a “preliminary” measure, and said other stores were under suspicion.
“More serious measures against this specific business and others found in the same act will be taken,” he said. “We are carrying out a thorough investigation to this effect.”
Ethiopian law allows criminal trials and jail sentences against people, including athletes guilty of breaching anti-doping rules.
Gishen Pharmacies PLC, one of the pharmacies around Addis Ababa Stadium, has denied recent report of The Guardian, U.K’s newspaper.
The paper wrote, “Pharmacists at the branch two of the pharmacy received us a bribe to get a doping drug called Erythropoietin,” reported The Guardian on its Friday, August 4 report.
Part of the report reads;
“The findings may raise concern for British Athletics, which holds annual high-altitude training camps in Ethiopia for top athletes, including Mo Farah, who is attempting to do the distance double for a third time at the world championships in London, which begin on Friday.”
“Outside the national stadium, two girls sell cobs of corn and coffee beans from colorful mats on the ground. But during the week of the Ethiopian championships, the blood-boosting drug EPO could be bought freely from a pharmacy just over the road. It is a popular drug, particularly among athletes and cyclists looking to gain an illegal edge by enhancing their endurance levels”.
But the fact on the ground, Erythropoietin (EPO) medicine uses as a growth factor that stimulates the production of red blood cells. Most of the cells in the blood are red blood cells, whose primary function is to carry oxygen throughout the body, responded the pharmacy in an email statement sent to DireTube Media.
“The report is a baseless defamatory deed,” the pharmacy statement claimed.
Erythropoietin is used to treat anemia resulting from kidney failure or cancer treatment. It is considered to be an alternative to blood transfusions, the statement, written by Amakelech Lulu, Gishen Pharmacies General Manager, reads.
“Anyone cannot buy the drug without Doctor’s prescriptions, which made the newspaper’s report false,” the statement further reads.
“EPO has a legal right to be distributed in the country by EBG, Meditech Ethiopia and Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority,” the pharmacy disclosed.
The announcement lastly reads that “If EPO has a doping effects, we are expecting further report from the pertaining federal regulatory bodies.”
Established in 1994, Gishen Pharmacy has been evolving to become one of the dominant market players in the Pharmacy retail industry serving individual and institutional customers. Our outstanding performance in our goods and service delivery journey has been witnessed in the level of prominence and goodwill we are enjoying before the many eyes of our market base and industry players, according to its website.