Counterfeit Medicines Killing Patients PMA.

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Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) in collaboration with the Helpline Trust held a seminar to highlight a critical issue in the healthcare sector; “Counterfeit medicine killing patients”. The event was aimed at creating awareness about how to identify “Counterfeit medicine” while discussing the regulatory measures to curb this public health menace.

Renowned social activist, pharma entrepreneur and Founder Trustee of “Helpline Trust” – Mr. Hamid Maker, along with Chairman of PMA’s Anti-Quackery Committee – Dr. Aziz Khan Tank, Senior Member Dr. Qaisar Sajjad and Dr. Tipu Sultan – Prinicipal of Bahria Medical & Dental College, addressed the audience during the seminar along with other learned speakers. The Helpline Trust is a compassionate social organization that advocates Consumer-Protection, Anti-corruption and Healthcare  initiatives since 1994.

During his speech, Mr. Hamid Maker urged the consumers to be very cautious and always check the authenticity, date of manufacturing and expiry date of every medicine before purchasing. Only the masses can actually promote the culture of ethical pharma consumption by saying “NO” to counterfeit drugs. It is a growing menace which must be tackled in an orgainzed manner. Mr. Maker appreciated the cooperation of PMA in launching of this broad-based initiative. He highlighted the earlier efforts of PMA to promote Public Health by producing TV programmes and social events to inspire better health and hygeine practices throughout the nation.

He said that the apparent reason for poor performance of the healthcare sector is the lack of political will and commitment on the part of the government machinery. On a public level the common man seems unaware and indifferent about the implementation of ethical practices and regulations to improve healthcare. Blatant violations are seen all over the country like; unlicensed manufacturing and sale of inauthentic medicines, unqualified medical practitioners and unhealthy food outlets. Unhygienic Paans, Chhaalia and the legally-banned Gutka are openly available all over the country. Mr. Hamid Maker also highlighted some of the measures taken by the PMA to overcome the growing menace of counterfeit medicines which poses a serious threat to public life and health. Several enforcement raids were conducted on the illegal trade of pharmaceuticals at Kachi Gali – the whole-sale market of medicines in Karachi. PMA has also introduced and recommends Anti-counterfeit labels for medicine packaging.

The Chairman Anti-Quackery Committee of PMA – Dr. Aziz Khan Tank said in his speech that such seminars should be continued along with a campaign on Mass media, to ensure positive outcomes in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals market.  According to some estimates, at least 45 percent of the drugs being sold in Pakistan are fake. In Karachi, the first case of counterfeit Amoxyciline production was uncovered in Federal B. Area. This illegal trade is still carried out, with little control, from areas like Sohrab Goth in Karachi all the way to the Baara Bazaar near Peshawar. The Declaration of Rome was a world-wide initiative, aimed at controlling the trade of counterfeit medicines. Dr. Aziz informed the participants that an under-developed country like Ghana in Africa has successfully controlled the trade of fake drugs. The Pharma company – GSK has devised an effective strategy titled; MAC Pedigree which enables the authentification of numerous types of drugs from Amoxyl to Panadol, using modern telecommunications technology. Dr. Aziz advised the government of Pakistan to adopt the MAC Pedigree strategy.

One big challenge in Pakistan are the pharmacies and drug stores being operated by unqualified entrepreneurs without the supervision of any qualified pharmacist. An NGO in Pakistan named IMANI CENTER is devoted to the sole objective of controlling counterfeits. On a global scale China and India are the biggest contributors to the illegal trade of fake drugs. Usually the shortage of medicines in the market gives a boost to the availability of fake drugs. Poor transportation and storage infrastructure in Pakistan also causes many good quality pharma consignments to go bad and enter the category of  ineffective medicines, some of these can even become disasterous for public health.

The fake drugs industry around the globe is growing at a rate of 20 – 25% per annum. PMA has demanded the establishment of an exclusive regulatory authority to control this counterfeit medicines. During this PMA seminar, a unanimous resolution was passed to form a separate regulatory authority, which will comprise of representatives from every segment including the civil society, Medical practitioners and the government.

Currently there is a lot of corrupt elements among the Regulatory drug inspectors, allowing this illegal trade to flourish. The government has allocated a budget of Rs. 500 million to control it, but only 50 workers are employed to monitor the trade all over this vast country. The problem intensifies because of illiteracy as a large majority of custormers are not able to read and identify the authentic drug from the fake ones being sold by the dishonest or unqualified pharmacists.

The academic icon of the medical sector – Dr. Tipu Sultan quoted the Quranic statement saying; Killing one man is as heinous as killing the whole humanity, while saving one life is equal to saving the lives of the whole humanity. Over the years, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has registered more than 57000 drugs. Due to rampant corruption, many of these pharma products were registered without following the diligent regulatory procedures of pre-registration evaluations. In Iran and Malaysia, the punishment for trading counterfeit medicines is as severe as death penalties as it causes life-threatening diseases among the suffering patients. Most of the victims of such trade are the poor masses living in the underdeveloped world. An average Pakistani household is spending 40% of their income on health-care and are being provided with such fake medicines.

A senior member of PMA – Dr. Qaisar Sajjad advised the consumers to be as cautious in purchasing a medicine, as they thoroughly evaluate a car or house before buying. Although inflation and poverty forces us to buy the cheapest stuff and we compromise on quality, but purchasing pharma products is a matter of life and death. Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association has the responsibility to check any violations. Generally the quality of medicine produced by the registered Pharma producers is quite good and exported to over 40 countries, but we must capture the black sheep operating in the country. The media can play a major role in increasing public awareness as it did in the Heart Medicine scandal in Lahore. Unethical marketing practices should also be monitored. PMA guidelines have defined, what incentives can a pharma company give to the prescribing doctors. The nation must start a JIHAAD (Holy War) and practical measures against this horrible crime. Merely conducting Seminars and conferences will not suffice. The criminals involved in this, deserve the most severe punishments.

January 4, 2014

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