A black market for sex enhancement drugs is growing in Harare due to weak regulation amid warnings that users are putting their lives at risk, it has been revealed.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Dealers sell the drugs openly at busy shopping centres and flea markets in the capital.
The scourge was thrust into the limelight last week after reports that Women’s Affairs minister, Nyasha Chikwinya allegedly doled out sex-enhancing pills to villagers in Gokwe-Nembudziya just over a week ago.
According to the reports, “the pills proved very popular, with virtually all the men stampeding to get at least one of the libido-enhancing tablets.”
Chikwinya has since denied the claims, sayings the reports were cooked up. Investigations in Harare revealed that the pills, herbs and teas have been popularised to an extent that it is almost normal for most men to just pop into their mouth a pill or gulp “guchu” [liquid enhancer] in search of better performance that the peddlers promise.
Medical doctor and Geneva Foundation of Medical Education and Research fellow Rutendo Bonde said there was no proper framework to regulate the entry, distribution and sale of such products, paving the way for the black market.
“These are not medicines, so their distribution cannot be restricted to pharmacies and approved health facilities,” she said.
“These are homeopathic/supplements and the whole issue will present an excellent opportunity for all stakeholders to review the industry.”
Bonde said Zimbabwe’s struggling economy was fuelling the trade in harmful products.
“There are potentially millions of people who buy these products and every distributor wants a fair cut of the market share,” she said.
Two years ago the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) banned over-the-counter selling of sex-enhancing drugs on the basis of their side effects.
Their distribution should now be accompanied by a medical doctor’s prescription, but some unscrupulous people have taken the drugs to the streets while others are selling them in the form of herbs.
MCAZ — which has the sole mandate to protect public health by ensuring that medicines and medical devices on the market are safe — had earlier on approved the sale of the drugs without going through the registration process.
However, acting on information from the United States and Australia that revealed that the “supplements” were in actual fact sexual enhancers, MCAZ banned the sale of the drugs which are mostly manufactured in China, Indonesia, India and Zambia.
MCAZ was concerned about the actual composition of the drugs whose manufacturers claimed were nutritional supplements with 100% herbal ingredients.
The banned enhancers such as Viagra, Wild Horse, Oto, M-Energex, Rock Hard Weekend, 21st Century Herbs for Forty Plus Men, Uqedizininga Men’s Libido, and Power 1 are normally prescribed for men with erectile dysfunction.
MCAZ spokesperson Richard Rukwata said, it was not permissible in law to distribute sex enhancers.
“The legal position doesn’t allow anyone to distribute those tablets outside of the framework,” he said.
Although sex enhancers have been around for ages, initially in the form of herbs, roots and certain food combinations, the recent influx of modern pills like Viagra and all its copycats, has brought in an element of harmful elements in the composition of the drugs.
When Viagra, which was supposed to treat erectile dysfunction, stormed the market, popularity of sex enhancers shot up.
There are fears that some of the drugs have the potential of destroying male fertility.
The stimulants which are being consumed to remedy things such as erectile dysfunction, female sexual dissatisfaction, penis enlargement, breast enlargement and to increase libido, have several negative effects which are unknown to many people.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers against products marketed as “dietary supplements” for sexual enhancement as some, they noted, contained active ingredients that could cause serious complications.
“Sexual enhancement products that claim to work as well as prescription products are likely to contain a contaminant. Use of such products exposes consumers to unpredictable risk and the potential for injury or even death,” FDA said on its website.
Other risks associated with sex-enhancement drugs include cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, kidney failure and priapism, among many other side effects.
“Some sex enhancement drugs expose users to potentially dangerous ingredients that may harm their reproductive health,” said the FDA.
Consultant urologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Habib Tijani, confirmed to Business Hallmark that some sexual enhancement drugs may impair male fertility.
“Long-term usage of some of them may affect the quality of the semen,” he said.
“Some of them do contain feminising hormones, that is, estrogen and these can affect sexual urge.
“Some of them contain testosterone, particularly those of them used locally for erection and can also affect fertility.”
Sexual enhancement supplements like Rock Hard have been found to contain tadalafil, along with glibenclamide, an active ingredient in diabetes medications.
Glibenclamide lowers blood sugar and — when taken by a person who doesn’t have diabetes —can cause blood sugar levels to drop precipitously low.
So why do men use sex enhancement drugs despite all these harmful implications?
Sociologist Martha Mutendi said for older men, it was because of issues like erectile dysfunction, she said men may find sex-enhancement drugs to provide satisfactory sexual intercourse.
“However, for younger men, it is simply a case of ego and wanting to prove a point to the women in their lives. It is for recreational purposes,” she said.