Abu Dhabi: Officials on Tuesday called upon health professionals and patients to report irregularities in drug quality in line with a new recalling system to be introduced soon.

The new recalling system responds to the need to protect the public from defective pharmaceutical products.

"It is imperative that we have an open line of communication between authorities regarding the progress of certain counterfeit cases. Public awareness on quality and safety of medication is vital; the source of any medication taken must be highlighted in a collaborated effort," said Dr Osama Abu Shaban, Team Leader for Pharmacy Inspection, Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD).

Shaban said some of the common issues related to counterfeit medicine include self-medication for serious diseases.

Jean Pierre of Sanofi Aventis said that "discovering one counterfeit box is enough to save ones life;" the UAE customs, he added, play a large part in seizing counterfeit medicine since they are located in remote areas where smuggling activities are mostly prevalent.

Pierre called the counterfeiters a "new kind of mafia who have their own network and make money very fast." He warned that counterfeiters often use complicated circuits in order to hide the origin of the fraud; they mostly use free-zone areas for transit activities and repacking fake drugs; they also use the internet to sell the fake drugs.

Strict measures

Dr Ahmad Al Hakeem, director of external affairs at Pfizer Middle East believes that there is no higher priority than ensuring that consumers have safe and effective medicines.

Bader Al Hosani, Customs Affairs Deputy Director, Abu Dhabi Customs (ADC), told Gulf News that counterfeit cases rarely bypass ADC, but inspectors are alert to seizing any suspected components being smuggled through the capital.

Strict measures are taken; a fine three times the original cost of counterfeit medicine and a minimum of six months to three years jail punishment.

Regulations: Products to be seized

Concerted action must be taken to curb counterfeit medicine, officials said. "The Ministry of Health has a centralised database regarding suspicious wholesalers. But if we only focus on seizing counterfeit products the problem will remain, we must employ systems which enable efficient traceability," said an official who wished to be unnamed, at the Counterfeit Conference.

According to Dr Ali Sayed Hussain, Director of the Department of Pharmaceutical Services, Department of Health and Medical Services (DOHMS) which is now known as Dubai Health Authority (DHA), there is currently no quality controlled lab in DOHMS. "It is still under discussion with MOH to have a quality lab in DOHMS and we are waiting for their reply," he added.

The main issue of concern for DOHMS, added Hussain, is in the Free-Zone Area, where stricter rules and regulations must be implemented and a quality lab should be immediately introduced. Other problems include the sale of unknown Chinese and herbal medicines by herbal shops and at malls; risky dietary products are also found in certain fitness centres and pharmacies.

"Regulation of medicine is in a transition stage and we would like to have more collaboration with MOH and Health Authority Abu Dhabi to have full authority in battling counterfeit medicine," said Hussain.