Drug counterfeiting, a scourge which threatens the health of millions of people worldwide
Lagos, 12 June, 2014 –The problem of counterfeit medicine is not a new one but it is a growing worldwide criminal trend that poses a real danger for patient health. Compounding the problem is the fact that it is no longer just about lifestyle products, medicines for treating chronic and serious diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or cancer can now be counterfeited.
In the recent Sanofi Fights Against Counterfeit Medicines Report, Sanofi’s Dr. Caroline Atlani, director, anti-counterfeiting coordination says: “They don’t contain the expected amount of active ingredient and they don’t meet any of the standard requirements for quality, efficiency and safety,” Atlani continues: “So patients run a number of risks: besides the presence of toxic substances, these medicine can be inactive and cause major adverse effects and complications for patients.”
While the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the global drug supply is fake, in Africa fake medicines may account for up to 30% of medicines in circulation. “The general public is not really aware of the existence of counterfeit medicines and the risks they may incur in certain purchasing situations,” says Atlani in the 2014 report.
A newly released Sanofi commissioned European consumer opinion survey of 5,010 people shows that very few of the Europeans surveyed associate the term ‘counterfeiting’ with medicines (20%). While the majority (66%) have heard of medicine counterfeiting, respondents seem to have little information on the issue of counterfeit medicines: 77% of those surveyed feel they do not receive sufficient information about counterfeit medicines. 84% of those surveyed say they have never seen or identified a counterfeit drug although there is a consensus among Europeans about the danger of counterfeit medicines insofar as 96% believe that counterfeit medicine can be and are probably dangerous. These results confirm the need to continue our fight against drug counterfeiting, especially by raising public awareness.
Drug counterfeiting across the globe
In recent years, medicines were the leading counterfeit products seized by European customs, ahead of counterfeit cigarettes (Pharmaceutical Security Institute “2011 situation report”). Other shocking statistics include:
- 1 in 10 medicne sold worldwide is counterfeit; this figure reaches 7 out of 10 in some countries (LEEM 2011) $75 billion in 2010: the profits yielded by counterfeit medicines; greater than those derived from drug trafficking (Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM)
- For every $1,000 invested, criminals can generate $20,000 in profits from heroin trafficking and $400,000 by trafficking counterfeit medicines. As of 22 May 2014, Interpol reported that nearly 200 enforcement agencies across 111 countries have collaborated on Operation Pangea VII targeting criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines via illicit online pharmacies. To date this has resulted in the closure of more than 10,600 websites and the seizure of 9.4 million fake and illicit medicines worth a total of $36 million. (Interpol “Operation Pangea VII”)
Atlani warns that counterfeit medicines can also lead to collective risks, especially due to the emergence of drug-resistance in the case of treatments for infectious diseases with antibiotics or antimalarials.
In accordance to the directive issued by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in 2012 to all Market Authorization Holders, Sanofi Nigeria implemented the Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) in 2013, an anti-counterfeit tool deployed with high-security labels to help both the patients and distributors ensure product authenticity verification for its antibiotics or antimalarials products.
According to the American Enterprise Institute 100,000 people worldwide die each year because they take branded and generic counterfeit drugs. In an article in the medical journal The Lancet in mid-2012, it was noted that one third of malaria medicines used in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are fraudulent.
“The general public is not sufficiently informed about the existence of counterfeit drugs and the risks it may be taking in certain purchasing situations. Counterfeit medicines are a real danger to patients’ health. For example, they may not contain the same amount of active ingredient as the genuine drug or not meet the same requirements in terms of quality, efficiency and safety as the genuine treatments”, said Dr Caroline Atlani, anti-counterfeiting coordination director at Sanofi.
According to Mrs. Uzo Amatokwu, Sanofi Nigeria’s Anti-counterfeit Coordinator, “it takes collaboration to really fight the counterfeit battle”. Sanofi recently signed a partnership with Interpol together with 29 major pharmaceutical companies at a total cost of 4.5 million euros, which covers the creation of the Interpol Pharmaceutical Crime Program focusing on fighting counterfeit medicines and combines training with targeted enforcement actions.
Sanofi has created its own laboratory dedicated to analyzing counterfeit Sanofi products in Tours, France manned by a dedicated team of experts. All Sanofi medicines suspected of being counterfeited are sent to the Central Anti-Counterfeit Laboratory (LCAC) to be analyzed.