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War declared on fake drugs

15th November 2006

10042006_drugs_&_money.jpgA team of global institutions has launched a campaign to guard against counterfeit medicines, which are proliferating around the world, often via the Internet.

More than 30% of medicines in some areas of Latin America, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are counterfeit, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners.

According to recent estimates from the WHO, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, around 10% of medicines sold in developed countries are fake, while that figure rises in many of the former Soviet republics to 20%.

In developed economies with strong regulatory mechanisms, counterfeits account for less than 1% of the market value, but 50% of illegal Internet sales are counterfeit, according to the group of institutions, which is launching an International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) to combat the problem.

IMPACT has come up with a programme of legislation, law enforcement, regulatory, technological and communications measures, warning governments that existing legislation is inadequate to deter counterfeiters.

It is warning against buying medicines from rogue websites, which operate internationally, have no registered business address and sell products that have an unknown or unclear origin.

However, it says some Internet pharmacies are completely legal operations, set up to offer clients convenience and savings. They require patient prescriptions and deliver medications from government licensed facilities.

Counterfeit medicines range from products containing no active ingredients to those containing highly toxic substances. They can harm patients by failing to treat serious conditions, can provoke drug resistance and, in some cases, kill.

According to IMPACT, the legal systems of most countries do not consider the counterfeiting of medicines a more serious crime than counterfeiting luxury items like handbags and watches, and their laws are aimed at protecting intellectual property rights rather than public health.

High-tech solutions are also being considered.

WHO is currently looking at proposals from three mobile telephone companies to apply their technologies to check the authenticity of medical products. DNA-based technologies, nanotechnology and other approaches will be assessed by IMPACT in the first quarter of 2007.

To improve communication, a small group has been created to continuously update global data on medical counterfeiting and share the information with IMPACT partners.

The group will also encourage member countries to run educational campaigns using public service announcements, short descriptive films and other awareness raising materials.

 

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