Substandard and falsified medical products, as defined by the World Health Organization, are major threats to public health. Through increasing globalisation, the problem has expanded in both developed and developing countries.
FIP has been speaking out against counterfeit medicines for over 20 years. We believe that pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists and educators can be a vital asset in assuring the safety of patients through their active participation in the fight against these products. As the final member of the pharmaceutical distribution chain as well as often being supply chain managers, pharmacists are key in combating counterfeit medicines. The commitment of the profession is visible through our Statement of Policy on Counterfeit Medicines. This key document is a strong political message from the pharmacy profession in support of the fight against fake medicines.
All markets are affected by counterfeit medicines:1
- Most developed countries with effective regulatory systems and market control (e.g. USA, EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand) currently have a low proportion of counterfeit medicines (i.e.
- Many developing countries of Africa, parts of Asia, and parts of Latin America have areas where over 30% of the medicines on sale can be counterfeit. Other developing markets have less than 10%. Overall, a reasonable estimate is between 10 and 30%;
- Many of the former Soviet republics have a proportion of counterfeit medicines above 20% of market value, falling into the developing country range;
- 50% of medicines bought over the internet from sites that conceal their actual physical address are counterfeit.
In 2015, as part of Interpol’s Operation Giboia, more than 150 tonnes of counterfeit and illicit medicines worth around USD3.5m were seized in seven African countries. With regards to internet sales, over 20.7 million counterfeit and illicit medicines, including products for blood pressure medicines, erectile dysfunction and cancer as well as nutritional supplements, were seized by Interpol’s Operation Pangea in 2015. Reported consequences of counterfeit medicines include deaths and hospital admissions, as well as lack of effect, for example:2
- 2,500 child deaths during a meningitis outbreak due to the lack of protection given by fake vaccines in Niger (1995).1
- Over 100 deaths (mostly children) after a counterfeit syrup containing diethylene glycol was used in Panama (2006).
- Two deaths and nine hospitalised when an antidiabetic contained six times the normal dose of glibenclamide (2009).
We work internationally against fake medicines
FIP is involved in several international initiatives against counterfeit medicines, collaborating with a number of organisations, including:
- The Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Minimising Public Health Risks Posed by Falsification of Medical Products and Similar Crimes (CD-P-PH/CMED), contributing to several of its publications
- Fight the Fakes
- The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, publishing a leaflet (©2008 Pharma Publishing) to raise awareness of the dangers of fake medicines acquired via the internet
- The US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, as one of the key actors in the creation and supervision of the pharmacy web domain to help patients to know for sure that they are obtaining medicines (as well as health information and services) from websites that are authentic and safe.
- The World Health Organization, FIP’s SEARPharm Forum being involved in compiling and analysing data on incidents of counterfeit medicines, and producing reports on the problem.
- The World Health Professions Alliance, on a long-term project which has included a communication toolkit, regional workshops, a grant programme to motivate innovative approaches to combat counterfeits, a handbook for healthcare professionals, statements at the WHO Executive Board and the World Health Assembly, and a video campaign. More info here.
Pharmacists fighting counterfeits around the world
FIP has produced tools to support its member organisations in the fight against substandard and falsified medicines at home, including congress sessions (visit our Library for abstracts including “Role of RFID technology in prevention of drug counterfeiting”). Our members around the world, from Argentina and Cote d’Ivoire to Lebanon and Switzerland, have been taking part in the fight against falsified medicines in different ways. More details about their campaigns can be found in FIP’s Pharmacists’ Organisations and Pharmacists’ Activities Database (POPAD), which is available to our member organisations (email Ms Zuzana Kusynová, firstname.lastname@example.org).
1. World Health Organization - IMPACT. Counterfeit Medicines: an update on estimates, 15 November 2006. Available at: www.who.int/medicines/services/counterfeit/impact/TheNewEstimatesCounterfeit.pdf. (Accessed 6 November 2008).
2. World Health Organization. Medicines: spurious/falsely-labelled/ falsified/counterfeit (SFFC) medicines, Fact sheet N°275. May 2012. Available at: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs275/en/ (Accessed 11 November 2014).