Although technology is available to detect counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs, it won’t take long for someone to invent technology to defeat it, Cariri CEO Liaquat Ali Shah said yesterday.
“It is noteworthy that IBM has developed what they referred to as the world’s smallest computer. It is in reality a mini chip which would cost approximately US $0.10 that can be placed in packages or boxes that can help in the fight against counterfeiters,” he told participants at a pharmaceutical counterfeiting conference at the Hilton Trinidad.
He estimated it would take 12-18 months for another device to be invented to counter-proof the existing technology. Noting the rapid advance of 3-D technology which makes it possible to print anything, including a medicine tablet, Shah urged local pharmacists and medical professionals to have meaningful dialogue to “arrest the scourge of counterfeit drugs.”
“You are reminded that such undertaking requires a collaborative effort involving the clean—the stakeholders who do not engage in counterfeit drugs. Stakeholders, in essence are fighting the fake campaign with interventions on a number of fronts, including legal, regulatory, education and consumer vigilance and communication, not to mention information and technology.”
“The stakes are high with patients, particularly the poor and vulnerable. You can’t afford to return here in five or ten years and be in the same situation where we are in now, still talking about the need for action with virtually doing nothing,” Shah said, noting the issue of counterfeiting was so chronic that T&T cannot afford to divert from its goal to eradicate it.
The consensus among the presenters was the difficulty in managing the supply chain infiltration of medicine from the raw material suppliers to patients.
Dr Devendra Singh, Specialist Medical Officer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the South West Regional Health Authority, said: “The scale of the problem is hard to quantify precisely, but WHO (World Health Organization) pooled analysis of 100 studies from 2007 to 2016, covering more than 48,000 samples, showed 10.5 per cent of drugs in low and middle-income countries to be fake or substandard.”
He added: “Drugs are on the formulary that are not effective, yet we still administer to our patients.”
Percival A Jordan, of Panama-based Pfizer, described the global situation as organised crime because pharmaceutical counterfeiting is a business. Counterfeit products have a wide scope, he said, managing to slip through the cracks in every industry and every market.
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Pharmaceutical Procurement Services head Francis Burnette said regional bodies implemented to target the challenge include Caricom Techpharm, a technical advisory group on pharmaceutical policy, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and Vigicarib, a regulatory unit within Caricom’s regional public health body. Online pharmaceutical purchases pose a greater challenge to control, as these purchases are unmonitored and usually purchased on a self-diagnosis basis, he said. Buyers in these instances will not be able to detect counterfeiting cues such as wrong packaging, educational materials to match the packaging and professional detection of the dosage and potency.