Express Pharma

Training healthcare workers and pharmacists against fraudulent medicines is a must: ASPA

A continued immersive awareness and education programme is crucial for healthcare workers so that they can be vigilant towards the presence of a counterfeit product and be informed of the protocol if they come across the same, says Nakul Pasricha, President, Authentication Solution Providers' Association (ASPA). He reveals more about India’s fight against counterfeit drugs to Akanki Sharma in an exclusive interview

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On December 4, 2020, the European Union’s crime agency Europol issued a warning about fake vaccines being sold online. Has something like this been reported in India?

Interpol and Europol had been issuing these global alerts to enforcement agencies across its 194 member countries for the last 12-15 months. One of the first alerts was released in March 2020 when global operations saw a rise in fake medical products related to COVID-19. They also noticed that criminals were taking advantage of COVID-19 anxiety to defraud victims online. Even in December 2020, an alert was issued that terrorist groups are using COVID-19 to reinforce power and influence. The latest one was issued in March 2021 as the public is warned against online vaccine scams after recent operations in China and South Africa.

A Twitter handle operated by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) @Cyberdost has issued alerts on a regular basis. On-ground incidents of fake COVID vaccines have surfaced in India, but no incident of online counterfeit sales has been reported so far.

As several COVID-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential. The need for coordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies will also play a vital role to ensure the safety of individuals and that the wellbeing of communities are protected.

As per a 2017 WHO report, 10.5 per cent of medicines sold in low and middle-income countries, including India, are substandard and falsified. What are the latest estimates about the extent of counterfeit medicines in India’s pharma supply chain?

Understanding the exact magnitude of the size of counterfeiting in the healthcare system is extraordinarily complex. Realising this, in 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global surveillance and monitoring system. It encourages the member states to report substandard, spurious, falsely labelled, falsified and counterfeit medical products (SSFFC) incidents in a structured and systematic format, to assist in arriving at a more accurate and validated assessment of the scope, scale and harm caused by this issue. In between 2013 to July 2017, the system received 1,500 reports of cases of substandard or falsified products. Of these, antimalarials and antibiotics are the most reported. The findings you have mentioned are based on that alert system.

Globally, experts had noticed an increase in SSFFC from the last decade. The Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), a trade group, had also reported that theft and counterfeiting of pharma products rose near