Dr Jamal Al Ka’abi, Acting Director, Health System Compliance (Haad), addressing the press conference. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: An audit inspector from the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) posed as a mystery shopper in an Abu Dhabi-based supermarket last January after learning that 15 fake Viagra boxes were being sold over-the-counter (OTC).

Though Haad officials refused to name the supermarket, they did assure reporters during a press briefing yesterday, that all counterfeit medication sold in that same supermarket were immediately seized and confiscated.

Three other supermarkets across the emirate, were also reported to be selling counterfeit medication, some of which included 100 mg of fake Viagra tablets for Dh48, which originally costs Dh986 for a 50 mg box.

"Haad doesn't instantly shut down a supermarket found to be selling drugs illegally since it's not considered a health facility. However, through joint efforts with different authorities, any supermarket or herbal centre that is found to sell counterfeit medication will be shut down, and in some cases reported to prosecutors," Dr Jamal Al Ka'abi, Acting Director, Health System Compliance at the Haad, said.

Since 2010, Haad quality auditors conducted 1,127 visits to pharmaceutical facilities, supermarkets and herbal centres, where hundreds of fake and expired medication was confiscated, some of which included: Viagra; Snafi and Levitra (sexual enhancers); Phyto-shape Lesvos (weight loss); Suprax (Anti-biotic); and Olay Total Effect (cosmetics).

The counterfeit products were sold across two pharmacies, two herbal centres and four supermarkets.

Based on recommendations by the Medical and Pharmaceutical Licensing Committee, two privately-owned pharmacies were instantly shut down last April for one month due to selling, exchanging, and buying OTC counterfeit and expired medication.

Another pharmacy was also discovered to be selling hidden counterfeit medication. The pharmacist in the same pharmacy was believed to have given away an original box of Viagra with fake tablets inside, in exchange for cholesterol tablets to an OTC customer.

"Very few counterfeit cases were found to exist among our 609 licensed pharmaceutical facilities. Our real worry is counterfeited drugs and herbs sold in supermarkets and herbal centres. That's why it's vital that consumers be well-informed of the difference between counterfeit and real medication," said Dr Al Ka'abi.

Legal invoice

Moutaz Zakar, Registered Pharmacist and Certified Quality Auditor at the Haad, urged consumers who suspect any irregular features in the medication they purchase, to ask the pharmacist for an authorised legal invoice to prove that the product is genuine.

"Don't be fooled by low-priced medication or discounts. Besides that a supermarket is not the right place to buy medicine from," warned Zakar, who added that supermarkets are not allowed to sell any antibiotics, contraceptives, chronic medication; or anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacteria medication.

Haad's current concern is towards consumers buying fake weight loss medication and/or sexual enhancers due to what sale's people claim "are miracle drugs".

"Certain people are depressed about their situation and are looking for a fast solution; that's why they rush into buying a product which is marketed to them, without considering its side-effects. People need to be very careful when purchasing particular medication," said Al Ka'abi.

Haad facts: Report oddities

Haad called upon customers to contact Haad on 800800 or to send an email to counterfeit@haad.ae if any changes in the product characteristics are noticed. These characteristics may include:

  • Unusual smell or taste, particularly if different to the previously purchased medicine
  • Unexpected change in consistency, shape or colour of the medicine or its packaging
  •  Inferior quality of packaging materials
  • Poor quality or altered/absent printing on the packaging
  • Unknown language printed on the package
  • Typos on the package or insert
  • The package of the medicine does not carry a price sticker

Statistics across Abu Dhabi

  • 13 Haad conferences and eight workshops were held in 2010 to discuss pharmaceutical facilities, areas of concern and topics including medication regulations, quality management and opportunities for improvement.

Have your say:

Do you trust the stores that you buy medication from? Have you come across any fake medication being sold in the UAE? Have you complained about it?