A TruScanTM analyser Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The Ministry of Health and Prevention has launched an all-out war against counterfeit medicines, drugs and devices that can harm people and deprive them of effective treatment, a top official said on Sunday.

Dr Amin Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing, said the ministry’s action will involve education, adopting smart scanners to detect fake medicines, and stiff penalties for selling or buying counterfeit medicines.

He was announcing the second Emirates International Counterfeit Conference to be held in Dubai on May 1 and 2.

Around 1,000 delegates from international agencies, including Interpol, World Health Organisation, the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agnecy (EMA), Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) and UAE Ministry of Interior and health authorities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi among others.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), counterfeit medication is ‘medicine which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect to identity and/or source. Counterfeiting can apply to both generic and branded drugs and include products with correct ingredients and no clear sources or with wrong ingredients, with or without active ingredients, with insufficient ingredients and fake packaging.”

The WHO says about 10 to 30 per cent medicines are counterfeit which result in loss of revenue worth billions of dollars to pharmaceuticals, and in ill health and sometimes death of patients. It is estimated that more than 700,000 deaths worldwide occur per year due to fake anti-malarial and anti-tuberculosis drugs.

The conference will highlight issues such as what is counterfeit medicine, how pharmacists play a role in identifying, controlling or reporting counterfeit, how a counterfeit drug can be identified by members of the public and how can members of the public can report the same. There are plans to distribute flyers about detecting counterfeit medicines to the public. They also plan a special free session after 6pm for residents to attend to create greater awareness about the issue.

“In the UAE, with active education, awareness and introduction of bar codes and other surveillance there is zero counterfeit medicines in government hospitals and clinics as indicated by our research. However, we are partnering with all stakeholders internationally to fight the menace in other GCC countries, the region and the world. Most counterfeit medicines are those that are bought online such as sexual enhancement medicines, medicines for erectile dysfunction, anti-obesity, hair regrowth medication and so on. It is medication for which there is high demand and unscrupulous online agencies deal in these medications which may be manufactured in unhygienic conditions, may contain harmful substances and many not contain the main chemical formulation required for the treatment.”

Dr A Amiri added, “Penalties for any pharmacies dealing in counterfeit drugs will be the closure of the premise for up to two months and in extreme cases suspension or cancellation of licence. Individuals dealing in counterfeit medicines will suffer imprisonment and fines.”

How to avoid counterfeit medication

1. Know your medicine (size, shape, colour, taste and side-effects)
2. Pay attention to inner and outer packaging
3. Obtain your medicine from licensed pharmacies
4. Avoid buying medicine online
5. Report, if you think you have bought a counterfeit medicine
6. Ask your pharmacist

About the scanner

In its war against counterfeit drugs and medicines, the Ministry of Health and Prevention has acquired a quick counterfeit detector called TruScanTM analyser, said Dr Amin Hussain Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health police and licensing at the ministry.

The device which is no larger than a mobile phone is a hand-held spectroscopic analyser that detects counterfeit medicine in seven seconds.

The device allows ministry-appointed inspectors to perform quick and reliable analyses of drugs. Each formulation has a chemical fingerprint and any slight deviation from the original formulation leads to detectable change in the spectrum.

The Ministry has a detailed list of all registered medicines and their chemical compositions that are legally available here in the UAE. Anything outside the registered list is quickly detectable.

The ministry currently has five such devices and will have a total of 10 devices which will allow its inspectors to detect counterfeit medicines at the customs where fly-by-night courier services ship online pharmacy drugs. Tackling them before entering the country and falling into the hands of gullible individuals will ensure complete elimination of counterfeit medicines.