South African consumers’ penchant for buying black market aphrodisiacs has once again come under the spotlight in the wake of this week’s 17th meeting of the parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which is currently underway at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg till October 5.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness, the illegal trade of sexual stimulants containing rhino horn and animal parts of other endangered species, thrives to this day and is decimating the world’s dwindling rhino population, among others.
Tumi Motsei, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – a trusted provider of generic erectile dysfunction (ED) medication explains that many cultures from around the world still mistakenly believe that rhino horn is a cure for impotence and all sorts of other ailments, including hangovers, typhoid, gout, hallucinations and cancer, but nothing could be further from the truth.
“There has been no scientific evidence which supports the medicinal value of powdered rhino horn in the treatment of ED or any other illness. In fact, studies have confirmed it’s just as ineffective as fingernails,” she says.
Motsei refers to research which was released by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1983, which found no evidence that rhino horn has any medical value. It confirmed that rhino horn is made of agglutinated hair and has no analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmolytic and no diuretic properties. No bactericidal effect could also be found against suppuration and intestinal bacteria.
Conservationists had hoped that the rising popularity of prescription ED medication, such as sildenafil would reduce the demand for rhino horns, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. Last year was the worst year recorded to date for rhino pouching in Africa, with over 1 300 rhinos killed, mostly in South Africa.
Male sexual enhancement treatments are considered to be one of the most counterfeited drugs in the world and rhino horn poaching, in particular, has primarily been driven by the insatiable demand for the horn in Vietnam, India, Thailand and China to cure impotence, but statistics show that SA consumers too are driving the demand for black market aphrodisiacs – some of which may also contain powdered rhino horn and the like.
Motsei says millions of counterfeit ED treatments are seized around the globe each year.
“Annually, SARS confiscates more than 200 000 black market ED drugs at an estimated value of R21-million. Law enforcement officials also say more and more criminals are sourcing these drugs online and selling them illegally at local pubs and clubs,” she warns.
Most male sexual enhancement pills are ordered online from websites in India, Malawi, the UK and Hong Kong, and go by explicit names such as Love4Long, Boss Rhino Gold, Anaconda strong and Golden Root.
With so many side-effects associated with taking fake erection drugs, why do so many South Africans continue to buy these drugs illegally over the internet?
“The problem is two-fold,” says Motsei, “firstly, people are offered ED drugs at a fraction of the price that they sell them for at licensed pharmacies and secondly, it’s a condition which men are often too embarrassed to discuss with their doctor. Counterfeit drug manufacturers take advantage of this vulnerability by making their products available without prescription. This then allows men to access prescription medication without seeking appropriate medical advice.
“There are literally hundreds of online websites where sexual enhancement pills can be bought for as little as R9 a tablet,” she says.
Motsei warns that ED drugs should never be taken unless it is recommended by a doctor. In combination with nitrates used to treat cardiovascular conditions, it can prove fatal.
“Even when the active ingredient dose is the same as the legitimate product, one also needs to consider where the counterfeit drug has been stored, whether it has expired or if the manufacturer used active ingredients from different sources, which all affects the way the drug is absorbed by the body. Fake ED drugs have also been shown to contain potentially dangerous substances, including acid, commercial paint, blue printer ink and even brick dust.”
There are regular news reports of patients being hospitalised with severe hypoglycemia, caused by a sudden drop in blood sugar. Many die and other suffer irreparable brain damage after taking fake erection pills.
“Most men experience erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives, usually between the age of 40 and 50. The condition can have a range of causes, both physical and psychological. It is exactly because erectile dysfunction is so common, that it’s important to pin-point what specifically is causing it in you. Medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and hormonal problems could also result in ED.
“Instead of scouring the Internet for these drugs, rather talk to your doctor about your sexual problem. To a doctor, ED is a legitimate health concern, which affects a large proportion of men – 4 in 10 to be exact. Abstain from buying drugs online completely as you won’t know if it’s legitimate. Should you be offered drugs of whatsoever nature by a friend, stranger or colleague, report it immediately to the SAPS Crime Stop hotline: 08600 10111,” advises Motsei.
Illegal wildlife trade is valued at around $20 billion a year (about R278 billion at R13.91/$), according to CITES, and is ranked the fourth largest illicit business in the world after arms, counterfeit goods and human trafficking.