‘Fake Drugs Kill More People Each Year Than Terrorism In The Last 40 years’

In this article, I shall deliberate on ‘fake medicines’ that we may at times land up into buying, without any inkling that instead of curing or managing the ailments, these products can push us into serious health hazards, quite contrary to what we and our doctors hope for.

One may term these substances as ‘Counterfeit’, ‘Fake’, ‘Spurious’ or ‘Sub-standard’ drugs, or in whatever other names one may wish to. The bottom-line is that such products in the guise of drugs could precipitate very serious and life-threatening health crisis for patients. This mindless game has already become both a global and local health menace, though in varying degrees and parameters in different countries.

According to INTERPOL, large sums of money are involved with these transnational criminal enterprises. Fake drug makers, who run this deadly trade undercover, use sophisticated tools and technologies and are well equipped to operate stealthily.

Deploying requisite wherewithal, this growing threat to public health and safety needs to be addressed expeditiously by all concerned and in tandem. Curbing this menace would call for great concerted focus in approach and execution of a fool-proof strategy with military precision.

At this stage, I reckon, we should not clutter the subject by mixing it up with other commercial considerations, such as Intellectual Property (IP) related matter, for which appropriate laws and mechanisms are already in place.

CBI underscores veracity of the problem:

Under the above backdrop, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Press Release dated June 24, 2015 announced that the First Indo-French Workshop on “Combating Counterfeit Medicine” for Police Officers, Investigators and other officers was held on 23 and 24 June 2015 in New Delhi.

The event was organized in collaboration with the French Embassy; Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines, France; Central Office Against Environmental & Public Health Violations, France and Central Fight Against Harm to the Environment And Public Health (OCLAESP) and was hosted by the CBI. Mr. Anil Sinha, Director, CBI inaugurated the workshop.

‘Fake Drugs Kill More People Each Year than Terrorism’:

In his inaugural address, Mr. Sinha made a startling revelation, when he said, according to an estimate of INTERPOL; fake medicines kill more people in a year than those who have died in the past 40 years as a result of terrorism.

Just a few years ago, INTERPOL reportedly estimated that while more than 65,000 people were killed in over 40 years in transnational terrorist incidents, the estimates of deaths caused by fake medicines range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands annually.

Quoting Ronald Noble, the erstwhile Secretary General of INTERPOL another report says, “40 years of terrorism has killed about 65,000 people, while 200,000 people died from the use of counterfeit drugs last year alone, and that’s just in China.”

Both crime and big money are involved in this life-threatening menace. Citing an example the CBI Director said, ‘One illicit online pharmacy network, which was dismantled by US authorities in 2011, managed to earn USD 55 million during two years of operations’.

In India, we have already read about the raids conducted by Mumbai FDA in April 2015 on similar unauthorized online pharmacies in the country. Following this development, the Drug Controller General of India has announced his yet another good intent to look into this issue with the help of a trade organization.

I shall also discuss, very briefly though, about problems associated with online pharmacies related to fake drugs, the world over.

More problems in the developing nations:

The CBI Director also articulated in his address, “Though the ramification of this menace is worldwide, it is more pronounced in developing and under developed nations.”

Sometime back in 2006, a study published by the then International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT) indicated that in countries like, the USA, EU, Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the problem is less than 1 percent. On the other hand, in the developing nations like parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa more than 30 percent of the medicines are counterfeits.

The above ‘Task Force’ also reported as follows:

“Indian pharmaceutical companies have suggested that in India’s major cities, one in five strips of medicines sold is a fake. They claim a loss in revenue of between 4 percent and 5 percent annually. The industry also estimates that spurious drugs have grown from 10 percent to 20 percent of the total market.”

‘Fake Drugs’ are more in countries with weak regulatory enforcement:

It has been observed that the issue of fake drugs is more common in those countries, where the regulatory enforcement mechanism is weak. India, I reckon, is one such country.

Interestingly, the Ministry of Health in India does not even recognize that fake Drugs are a growing menace in the country. This is vindicated by its latest report of 2009 on this subject.

The above report titled, “Report on Countrywide Survey for Spurious Drugs”, published by CDSCO on behalf of Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India in 2009, concluded as follows:

“In view of above observations and data obtained from the manufacturers, after physical verification of all the drug samples and subsequent chemical analysis report on the representative of samples taken at random, it may be concluded that:

(i)             The extent of spurious drug in retail pharmacy is much below the projections made by various media, WHO, SEARO, and other studies i.e. only 0.046 % (11 samples out of 24,136 samples).

(ii)           Extents of substandard drugs among the branded items are only 0.1 % {Out of two thousand nine hundred seventy six (2976) unsuspected samples, 03 samples do not conform to claim with respect to Assay on chemical analysis}”

It is an irony that the drug regulators in India mostly keep demonstrating an ‘Ostrich Syndrome’ – refusing to acknowledge this menace that is blatantly obvious. They apparently believe that no health hazards due to prevalence of fake drugs exist in the country.

On the other side – many worrying reports:

Though the Government of India tends to wash its hands off on the very existence of this menace with the survey reports as above, following are just a few examples from other reports raising concerns on this critical issue in India:

  • A July 2014 ASSOCHAM report titled, “Fake and Counterfeit Drugs In India –Booming Biz” states that fake drugs constitute US$ 4.25 billion of the total US$ 14-17 billion of domestic pharmaceutical market. If the fake drugs market grows at the current rate of 25 percent, it will cross US$ 10 billion mark by 2017.
  • A May 2012 study published in ‘The Lancet’ reported that over one in three anti-malarial drugs sold in southeast Asia are fake while a third of samples in sub-Saharan Africa failed chemical testing for containing too much or too little of the active ingredient, potentially encouraging drug resistance. Around 7 percent of the drugs tested in India was found to be of poor quality with many being fake. India reportedly records 1.5 million cases of malaria every year.
  • A February 2012 report of ‘The National Initiative against Piracy and Counterfeiting’ of FICCI highlighted that the share of fake/counterfeit medicines is estimated at 15- 20 percent of the total Indian pharmaceutical market.
  • A 2011/12 report of the US Customs and Border Protection highlighted: “India and Pakistan both made it to top 10 source countries this year due to seizures of counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Pharma seizures accounted for 86 percent of the value of IPR seizures from India and 85 percent of the value of IPR seizures from Pakistan.”

DCGI intends to justify his moot point yet again:

In view of all these worrying reports and amid concerns around the quality of medicines being manufactured in India, in January 2015, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) proposed carrying out a nation-wide survey using methodology prepared by the Indian Statistical Institute, Hyderabad to assess the prevalence of fake and substandard drugs.

In the 2015 survey, around 42,000 locally made drug samples would be drawn from across the country throughout the rest of this year, which would include 15 therapeutic categories of drugs featuring in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM), 2011.

As I mentioned before, according to the DCGI this survey would “tell the world that our drugs are of quality”.

I discussed a similar issue titled, ‘Are We Taking Safe And Effective Medicines‘ in this Blog on November 13, 2013.

‘Fake Drugs’ and Online drug sales:

Before I touch upon this point and at the very outset, let me submit that in this article I shall not discuss on the merits or demerits of online pharmacies and the need of such e-outlets in India.

That said, it is now widely believed, backed by hard data that the Internet is increasingly assuming an attractive niche in the global diffusion of ‘fake drugs’.

Unlike India, some countries already support the business of legal online pharmacies by charting a transparent regulatory mechanism in place. For example in the United States all Internet pharmacies have to be licensed in the country. All their States require this. The general rule is, if an Internet pharmacy is offering to ship drugs into a particular state, they have to be licensed (but not necessarily located) there.

However, if an Internet pharmacy is shipping prescription drugs to individuals in the US from outside the US, that is absolutely illegal.

Some institutions in the US developed an accreditation system for Internet pharmacies. The official seals of these institutions, require to be posted on pharmacies’ website as a warrantee.

It is important to note that these institutions operate only at the national level and due to differences in domestic laws in different countries, it is difficult for any of them to provide customers with reliable information concerning the quality of pharmaceuticals, in general, available online.

Status of online pharmacies in India:

Although online sales of pharmaceuticals are totally illegal in India till date, there seems to be several such pharmacies still operating in the country.

It is generally believed that the impact of the Internet on ‘fake drugs’ business models is real. Thus, enforcement strategies need to be very stringent.

It is precisely for this reason, on April 17, 2015, Maharashtra’s Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) reportedly raided the premises of e-commerce major Snapdeal.com for allegedly selling medicines, including prescription drugs.

Immediately thereafter, the company announced that it has delisted the drugs on its portal and is assisting the FDA in the investigation.

Taking note of the prevailing scenario of illegal online sales of prescription drugs through e-commerce sites in India, DCGI office has reportedly started studying the existing regulations internationally to come out with a set of rules for online pharmacies. Meanwhile, DCGI has reportedly appointed the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) as the nodal agency for consolidating the guidelines.

Be that as it may, experts believe that online sale of drugs should be permitted in India only with strict and well thought out norms, which are enforceable hundred percent, anywhere within the country. Stringent guidance should be formulated in the amendment bill, 2015 of Drugs & Cosmetics Act & Rules, accordingly.


Keeping this emerging scary scenario in perspective on the menace of fake drugs, the message of the CBI Director in this regard must be noted by the Government with all seriousness…continuing ‘all is well’ signals from the DCGI, not withstanding.

All stakeholders of the pharmaceutical industry must be made aware, on a continuous basis, of the health hazards posed by fake medicines in India.

As the penetration of Internet keeps increasing at a galloping speed in the country, unregulated online sales of ‘fake drugs’ in the guise of ‘licensed medicines’, pose a very real threat to public health and safety. If and when online sales of medicines are legalized, enforcement of all rules and laws in this regards need to be very stringent with exemplary punitive actions prescribed, for even slightest violations.

In tandem, the DCGI and other regulatory and enforcement agencies in the states, healthcare professionals, patients, all pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug distributors, wholesalers and retailers should join hands to play a proactive role in curbing the menace of ‘fake medicines’ that victimize the innocent patients.

No Wolf in sheep’s clothing must be allowed coming anywhere in the near vicinity…at all.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.


Dissapointing: No proposal of ‘Healthcare Reform’ in the Union Budget of India for 2011-12: China rolled it out in 2009.

January 15, 2011 issue of ‘The Lancet’ in an article titled, “Learning from others” states the following:

“Having universal coverage through a public commitment does have costs, including public costs. The proportion of national expenditure on health that is met by the government is 26% in India and 45% in China. Or, to look at a related contrast, while government expenditure on health care in India is only around 1·1% of its GDP, it is around 1·9% in China. One need not be a genius to see that if the government of a country is ready to spend more on health, it could expect better results in terms of the health of the people.”

While comparing India with China, I reckon, one should take into account of larger disease burden in India as compared to China and the cost that India pays due to slow progress of reform processes in a democratic framework with open and free society and the vibrant outspoken media in the country. Further, the healthcare reform processes in China started over a decade earlier than India, resulting in a significant difference in the healthcare infrastructure, healthcare delivery and the healthcare financing systems of both the countries, over a period of time.

Access to safe drinking water and sanitation:

Access to safe drinking water in India may be comparable to other emerging economies, but sanitation condition in India needs radical improvement. According to World Health Organization (WHO, 2009) the Access to potable water and improved sanitation in those countries are as follows:

Country Drinking Water  (% population) Sanitation                     (% population)
India 89 28
Brazil 91 77
China 88 65
Mexico 95 81
South Africa 93 59

Key issues in the Public Hospitals:

The ethical issues, which the patients face, especially, in the hospitals of India, I reckon, have not been reported for China by the Transparency International.

Transparency International India (2005) had reported the following seven key issues and irregularities experienced by the patients at the Government Hospitals in India:

  1. Medicines unavailable: 52%
  2. Doctors suggest a visit to their private clinic: 37%
  3. Doctors refer to private diagnostic centers: 31%
  4. Over-prescription of medicines: 24%
  5. Bribes demanded by staff: 20%
  6. Diagnostics tests done even when unnecessary: 18%
  7. Doctors are absent: 13%

All these continue to happen in India, with no respite to patients, despite ‘Hippocratic Oath’ being taken by the medical profession and the new MCI guidelines for the doctors being in place within the country. Moreover, a miniscule spend of 1% of the GDP by the Government of India towards public healthcare of the nation, is indeed a shame.

Healthcare Reform in China:

Early April, 2009, China, a country with 1.3 billion people, unfolded a plan for a new healthcare reform process for the next decade to provide safe, effective, convenient and affordable healthcare services to all its citizens. A budgetary allocation of U.S $124 billion has been made for the next three years towards this purpose.
China’s last healthcare reform was in 1997:
China in 1997 took its first reform measures to correct the earlier practice, when the medical services used to be considered just like any other commercial product. Very steep healthcare expenses made the medical services unaffordable and difficult to access to a vast majority of the Chinese population.
Out of pocket expenditure towards healthcare services also increased in China:
The data from the Ministry of Health of China indicates that out of pocket spending on healthcare services more than doubled from 21.2 percent in 1980 to 45.2 percent in 2007. At the same time the government funding towards healthcare services came down from 36.2 percent in 1980 to 20.3 percent in the same period.
Series of healthcare reforms were effectively implemented since then like, new cooperative medical scheme for the farmers and medical insurance for urban employees, to address the situation  prevailing at that time.
The core principle of the new phase of healthcare reform in China:
The core principle of the new phase of the healthcare reform process in China is to provide basic health care as a “public service” to all its citizens, where more government funding and supervision will assume a critical role.
The new healthcare reform process in China will, therefore, ensure basic systems of public health, medical services, medical insurance and medicine supply to the entire population of China. Priority will be given to the development of grass-root level hospitals in smaller cities and rural China and the general population will be encouraged to use these facilities for better access to affordable healthcare services. However, public, non-profit hospitals will continue to be one of the important providers of medical services in the country.
Medical Insurance and access to affordable medicines in China:
Chinese government plans to set up diversified medical insurance systems. The coverage of the basic medical insurance is expected to exceed 90 percent of the population by 2011. At the same time the new healthcare reform measures will ensure better health care delivery systems of affordable essential medicines at all public hospitals.
Careful monitoring of the healthcare system by the Chinese Government:
Chinese government will monitor the effective implementation and supervision of the healthcare operations of not only the medical institutions, but also the planning of health services development, and the basic medical insurance system, with greater care.
It has been reported that though the public hospitals will receive more government funding and be allowed to charge higher fees for quality treatment, however, they will not be allowed to make profits through expensive medicines and treatment, which is a common practice in China at present.
Drug price regulation and supervision in China:
The new healthcare reform measures will include regulation of prices of medicines and medical services, together with strengthening of supervision of health insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies and retailers.
As the saying goes, ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’, the success of the new healthcare reform measures in China will depend on how effectively these are implemented across the country.

Besides Democracy, China has something to learn from India too:

The article, as mentioned above, from ‘The Lancet’ concludes by saying that unlike China, the real progress in India has come out of public discussion and demonstration within the democratic set-up in India. One such program is distribution of cooked mid-day meals to school children and selected interventions in child development in pre-school institutions. Such programs are currently not available in China for development of proper physical and mental health of, especially, the children of the marginalized section of the society

There exists a sharp difference between India and China in the critical healthcare delivery system. The Chinese Government at least guarantees a basic level of public funded and managed healthcare services to all its citizens. Unfortunately, the situation is not quite the same in India, because of various reasons.
High economic growth in both the countries has also led to inequitable distribution of wealth, making many poor even poorer and the rich richer, further complicating the basic healthcare issues involving a vast majority of poor population of India.
To effectively address the critical issues related to health of its population, the Chinese Government has already announced a blueprint outlining its new healthcare reform measures for the next ten years. How will the Government of India respond to this situation for the new decade that has just begun?

It was very dissapointing to learn from the Union Budget speech of the Finance Minister of India for 2011-12 that the perspective of our Government on the importance of healthcare for the fellow citizens of India, still remains indifferent.

By: Tapan J Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

New Drug Policy 2009 – suggesting key elements for a strategic shift in the policy framework

The new drug policy of the Government of India (GoI) is long overdue. Despite so many reform measures taken by various Governments over last two decades, Indian Pharmaceutical Industry has not seen a new ‘drug policy’since 1995.As an individual who has been closely observing the pharmaceutical industry during this period, I would expect the new UPA Government to work out a new ‘drug policy’, without further delay, after having a fresh look at the current policy, which has outlived its time. The new ‘drug policy’should be aimed at achieving inclusive growth, keeping pace with the progressive outlook and aspirations of young India.Broad policy objectives:

The broad objective of the new ‘Drug Policy’ should undoubtedly be ‘ensuring access to affordable modern medicines to all’, clearly addressing the following key elements, in detail:

1. Affordability:

• The new policy should ensure adequate availability of all ‘National List of Essential Medicines’ (NLEM) at affordable prices.

‘Jan Aushadhi’ initiative of the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) should be strengthened further through public-private-partnership (PPP) initiatives, using strong public distribution outlets like ration shops and post offices for effective rural penetration of the scheme.

2. Access:

• Around 65% of the Indian population does not have access to affordable modern medicines even today, against 47% in Africa and 15% in China.

• GoI should make effective use of its existing initiatives, take some new initiatives and dovetail them as follows:

- ‘National Rural Health Mission’ (NRHM): to create rural healthcare infrastructure.

- ‘Jan Ausadhi’ scheme: to extend the reach of affordable medicines to a vast majority of
rural population.

- Innovative ‘Health Insurance Schemes’ to be worked out for all sections of the society through PPP, like for example, ‘Yashasvini’, pioneered by Dr. Devi Shetty of Bangalore and the Government of Karnataka, which is possibly the world’s cheapest comprehensive Health Insurance scheme, at Rs.5 (11 cents) per month, for the poor farmers of the state.

3. Research & Development:

• Patents (Amendment) Act, 2005 ushered in a new paradigm for the pharmaceutical industry of India. There is a great opportunity for the domestic Indian pharmaceutical companies to discover, develop and market their own New Molecular Entities (NMEs) throughout the world. The new policy should plan to provide adequate fiscal incentives for R&D initiatives taken by the pharmaceutical industry of India.

• R&D in India costs almost a fraction of equivalent expenditure incurred in the west. Because of availability of highly skilled manpower with proficiency in English together with cost advantages, the country has the potential to become the largest global hub for ‘Contract Research’ and other R&D related work being outsourced by the global Pharmaceutical Companies.

• As India is poised to be a global hub for Clinical Trials, the new policy should extend adequate support to companies carrying out clinical studies in India not only to help them record a healthy growth, but also to attract more ‘foreign direct investments’ (FDI) for the country.

4. Exports:

• The Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers reported in its ‘Annual Report of 2006-07′ that exports of Drugs & Pharmaceuticals have doubled during the last four years. To give greater boosts to exports PHARMEXIL should be further strengthened to act as an effective nodal centre for all pharmaceutical exports, together with the responsibilities for conducting extensive promotional activities to accelerate growth for this sector.

• It is estimated that in the next three years sales of over U.S.$ 60 billion being generated by some blockbuster pharmaceutical products patented in the western countries and not in India, will go off patent. This will open the door of significant opportunities for Indian pharmaceutical exports. GoI should help the domestic pharmaceutical companies to encash this opportunity through adequate financial measures and other support, wherever required.

5. Employment generation:

• Indian pharmaceutical industry with its encouraging pace of growth is making good contribution towards employment generation initiatives of the country, both within skilled and unskilled sectors of the population.

• With projected CAGR of around 14%, the employment opportunity, especially for the qualified professionals is expected to increase significantly in the coming years, across the industry, from core pharmaceutical sectors, right through to contract research, manufacturing services (CRAMS) and clinical trials space.

• Recommendations to be provided in the new drug policy should further accelerate such employment generation opportunity by the industry.

6. Contribution to Economic Growth of the Country:

• The new ‘drug policy’ should also address how will the pharmaceutical industry in India contribute more to the economic development of the country through various reform measures, in areas like, R&D, CRAMS, Clinical Trial (CT) and also towards health insurance, for all strata of society.

Innovative new ‘drug policy’ initiative of the new government will not only ensure a stimulating inclusive growth for the industry, but also will help attract adequate FDI for the country.

Broad Strategic shift towards ‘Access to affordable modern medicines for all’:

Ensuring ‘access to affordable modern medicines for all’ should be made one of the key objectives of the DoP. Resorting to populist measures like ‘drugs price control’ may sound good. Unfortunately at the ground level, it has not helped a vast majority of 650 million population of India, thus far.

Therefore, ‘Drugs Price Control’ since 1970 has not been able to ensure ‘access to affordable modern medicines’ to more than just 35% of Indian population. The new ‘drug policy’ should, therefore, shift its focus from ‘Price Control’ to ‘Price Monitoring’, which has been proved to be of great success to keep medicines affordable to the common man, as indicated by the ‘National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority’ (NPPA). However, for government purchases, made to address the healthcare needs of the ‘common man’ there should always be room for price negotiation with the concerned companies, as is being practiced in many countries of the world.


To achieve the proposed ‘new drug policy objective’ of ‘ensuring access to affordable modern medicines for all’, the policy makers should try to think ‘outside the box’. ‘The old wine in a new bottle’ policy will just not be enough.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.