Buying a painkiller to get rid of body pains arising out of weekend shopping? Or a pill to subside cold and warm up this winter? You better be alert. According to World Health Organization (WHO), almost 20 percent medicines sold in India are fake.
That makes two out of every 10 medicines either counterfeit, substandard or fake and may lead to treatment failure or even death. Unfortunately, duplicates of both commonly-used drugs such as paracetemol and life-saving cancer drugs have seeped into the market and are being sold undetected as originals. Currently, there are more than 10,000 drug manufacturers in India and more than six lakh outlets selling medicines. As per the WHO, fake drugs invariably carry ingredients (which may or may not be genuine) in insufficient or excess quantities. “The issue of counterfeit drugs is a menace and is growing rapidly at a time when the Indian government is trying to reduce prices of essential medicines and make them affordable for all. The government is also attempting to curb drug counterfeiting through some initiatives,” says PV Appaji, executive director, Pharmaexcil, which represents pharmacueticals exporters.
To contain the situation, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has reportedly hired over 100 health inspectors to check spurious medicines. In parallel, the Department of Pharmaceuticals has issued notifications asking pharmaceutical companies to use nanotechnology and help the authorities identify the fake drugs in the market.
“The Union Health Ministry Task Force’s recommendation of unique ID codes and mobile authentication is a strong step in the fight against counterfeit medicines. The technology allows companies to protect their brands and helps consumers ensure that the medicine they are taking are real, not counterfeit,” says Nathan Sigworth, CEO, PharmaSecure. Companies like Pharmaescure offer information to consumers about authenticity of drugs. To avail of the Pharmasecure service, for instance, one has to SMS the medicine code inscribed on the strip to 9901099010. Similarly, global imaging solutions firm HP Labs has tied up with non-profit organization mPedigree to come up with an SMS solution in India.
A report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in March this year said 75 percent of the fake drugs supplied globally have origins in India, followed by 7 percent in Egypt and 6 per cent in China.
Trade body FICCI estimates the market for counterfeit products to be about $600 billion annually and says the fake products market in India has grown by 10,000 per cent over the last two decades. The WHO says over 50 percent of the medicines purchased over the internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical address are found to be counterfeit.
But there’s help in hand, with companies offering to assist you in detecting whether the medicine you just bought from your pharmacist is counterfeit. “All one has to do is to scratch the code given on the pills’ strip and SMS it to helpline numbers. You’ll get a response asap,” promises Appaji.