Ministry of Health warns against Importing without Permits


Concerned about some of the products coming into Jamaica, the Ministry of Health is reminding importers that they must seek a permit to import selected items.
Under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, the importation of items such as food and some cosmetics, medical devices and pharmaceuticals require a permit.
Items currently being imported without prior permission by the Ministry include: energy drinks, skin bleaching preparations, fluoride containing toothpastes, vitamin preparations, sex enhancers, diet control tablets, herbal preparations, cosmetics which make therapeutic claims and dietary supplements. However, skin bleaching products and energy drinks are two of the products the Ministry is most concerned about.
Director of the Standards and Regulation Division in the Ministry of Health, Princess Thomas Osbourne, says though the creams are seen as cosmetic items by importers, many of them contain ingredients that would classify them as prescription drugs.
Mrs. Osbourne notes that because energy drinks are foods, many importers assume they do not fall under any regulation. However, she says many of them contain ingredients which would require approval for importation.
“So, for example, they have herbs in them. We’ve seen some with horny goat weed, we’ve seen them with ginseng, we’ve seen them with other herbs, they have high concentrations of amino acids in them, some of them have high concentrations of caffeine and it is this combination which can cause (problems),” she explains.
Chemicals also require permission for importation from the Ministry. Under the Precursor Chemicals Act and Dangerous Drugs Act, no precursor chemical, dangerous drug or controlled substance can be imported, without the requisite permit application being approved.
The permit approval process requires the importer to obtain the applicable permit application form from the Pharmaceuticals and Regulatory Affairs Department at the Ministry, complete the form and then submit it for assessment and processing before importing the item.
“It really is important that people understand that they (should) follow the process. It is not tedious; we really don’t try to make it difficult. You come in, we sit with you, we go through what it is you need to do and, once you have satisfied the requirements, you can then go ahead and import your product for sale,” says Mrs. Osbourne. Permits for importation of each of the items listed usually last one year.
Mrs. Osbourne states that the Ministry of Health must register any drug that is being imported for the first time into the island. Evidence of the registration, which could include the Registration Certificate issued by the Ministry, may be required prior to importation. The item must also be accompanied by any documentation, as specified by the Division.
She is reminding importers that importation of the listed items without the Ministry’s approval is illegal and could result in the items being held at the Customs Department, or the products not being allowed clearance from the wharf.
“If products are brought in, customs can identify these products, because they have the list. If the customs officer, in fact, sees a product that comes in did not have the requisite permit, that product is going to be seized. Once it is seized there are applicable fines,” Mrs. Osbourne explains.
She adds that the permit is a means of control to ensure that items entering the island are assessed and deemed safe to enter the market.
Mrs. Osbourne advises that the Ministry of Health cannot guarantee the safety of any product not evaluated or assessed by the Division, prior to importation and use.
“Consumers really are vulnerable because they are at the receiving end, they really don’t know,” she states. However, she says consumers can be proactive by checking with the Ministry, whenever they see new products on the market in which they have an interest.
Persons can call the Ministry to request information on products through the Public Relations Unit at 967-1561, or the Standards and Regulations division at 947-4106.
She says that in the case of drugs, consumers can also call the Pharmacy Council, which would be able to advise them about the product. Importers can also call the Ministry, if they are in doubt regarding whether a product requires approval before it can be imported.
Mrs. Osbourne says that it is important that both consumers and importers play their part in ensuring that the products are approved as safe.
“We realise that if products come in and they have the potential for harm and we don’t even know that they are on the market, it means that you are placing people’s health, you are placing their lives at risk.that’s not what we want to happen. We really want to have and maintain a clean market with respect to the products that our people are using,” she says.

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