Tackling the menace of counterfeit medicines – vested interests or petty sentiments should not make the pressing public healthcare issue irrelevant.

There are following three clearly emerging views on the global issue of counterfeit drugs:1. The innovator companies feel that the generic pharmaceutical industry and the drug regulators are
not really very keen to effectively address and resolve this global public health issue.2. The generic companies and the drug regulators feel that the problem is not as acute as it is
projected to be and the innovator global pharmaceutical companies through their intense advocacy
campaign are trying to exploit the situation to fight against generic medicines and parallel imports.

3. Some other group, including a section of NGOs claim that an important public health sentiment is
being used by the R&D based global pharmaceutical companies to extend intellectual property rights
(IPR) to patients’ safety issue, allegedly for vested interest. These organizations have taken their arguments
to various international platforms like Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and
International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) of the World
Health Organization (WHO),
for effective resolution of their grievances.

Addressing some of these concerns:

IPR being extended to the definition of counterfeit medicines:

Even in India, ‘misbranding’ though an integral part of IPR, is considered as a public health issue and is an offence under Section 17 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Acts, 1940. Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology, 2006 has estimated a loss to the industry towards such counterfeit medicines of US$ 30 billion, which is about 6% of the turnover of the global pharmaceutical industry.

Magnitude of problem with counterfeit medicines has been inflated:

In the industrialized and developed nations of the world with effective regulatory control, the problem perhaps, may not be as acute. A study done by IMPACT in 2006 indicates that in countries like, the USA, EU, Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand the problem is less than 1%.

Similar study, on the other hand, indicated that in the developing nations like parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa more than 30% of the medicines are counterfeits. It has also been reported that in South East Asia, estimated prevalence of counterfeit artesunate for malaria is 33-53%.

Apprehension from some section of the generic pharmaceutical industry:

Apprehensions from some section of the generic pharmaceutical industry that attempts are being made by the interested groups within the industry to bring generic drugs under the purview of counterfeit medicines, is indeed unfounded. As from no developed countries around the world, there has been any threat to non-patent infringing legal generic medicines. And why there should be any such threat at all, when the world is witnessing the global pharmaceutical companies scaling up their generic business operations?

On the contrary generic pharmaceutical business, in almost all developed markets across the world, is growing at a much faster pace than the patented products of the innovator companies and this trend is expected to continue at least in short to medium term.

An unexplained similarity:

From the above details one will be tempted to draw a conclusion that in all those countries where access to modern medicines is poor, incidences of counterfeit medicines are higher. IMPACT has reported counterfeit versions of all types of medicines ranging from anti-malarial, anti-hypertensives, anti-tubercular, anti-retroviral to cardiovascular and other life saving and life style drugs, from these countries.

Various types of counterfeit medicines:

WHO has indicated following types of counterfeit medicines:

• Without active ingredients: 32%

• Wrong ingredients: 21.4%

• Incorrect quantities of active ingredients: 20.2%

• Right quantities of active ingredients but in fake packaging: 15.6%

• High levels of impurities and contaminants: 8.5%

• “Substituted ingredients of anything from paracetamol to boric acid, talcum powder, rat poison or
road paint”

• Medicines purchased online from illegal internet sites: 50%

Factors influencing flourishing trade of counterfeit medicines:

WHO IMPACT has reported following key factors:

• Low manufacturing costs, thus higher profit margin

Albany Law Journal reports that high pricing ratio of counterfeit medicines compared to a branded
product attracts counterfeiters

• In countries like India the risk of detection of fake medicines is quite low where the penalties for such
heinous crime even today is very lenient, as the amended anti-counterfeit law, for some strange
reasons, has not been made operational, as yet.

Global sales forecast for counterfeit medicines:

The sales of counterfeit medicines across the world as estimated by the ‘Centre for Medicine in Public Interest’ will be around US$75 billion by the end of 2010. This is an increase of over 90% as compared to 2005.

Incidence of detection of counterfeit medicines:

A report from the WHO’s Executive Board in its 124th session indicated that the detection of counterfeit medicines in 2007 had increased to more than 1,500. This reflects an increase of around 20% over 2006 and ten times more compared to year 2000.

Volume of counterfeit seizures, the world over:

WHO indicated that in 2005-06 the volume of counterfeit drug seizures included 2.7 million articles and the main countries where these articles originated from, were reported as follows:

• India: 31%
• UAE: 31%
• China: 20%


We have, therefore, enough data to establish that counterfeit drugs are posing a growing menace to the humanity. All stakeholders should join hands to address this public health issue, leaving aside petty commercial interests, be it generic pharmaceutical companies or research based pharmaceutical companies, across the world and India is no exception. Otherwise, thugs and criminals who are running to their banks, more often than ever before, with sacks full of money from this illicit trade, at the cost of the innocent patients, will keep going almost scot free, forever.

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.