An international conference to discuss counterfeit medicines in Africa is currently underway in Johannesburg, South Africa. Sponsored by Pfizer, participants — twenty customs officials, medicine regulators and government representatives from 10 sub-saharan countries as well as representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pharmaceutical Securit y Institute (PSI) — are discussing the threats that counterfeit medicines and un r egistered generics pose for the safety of patients in the region.
The conference is expected to fashion out joint plans of action to address the issue. The conference is featuring workshops during which participants will share exper iences and develop comprehensive action plans to help keep medicine supplies in A frica secure and safe. “The threat that counterfeit medicines pose to society is very real,” said WHO representative Dr. Moses Chisale. He said “Counterfeit medicines are present in all regions but those areas where regulatory and legal oversight are weakest bear the brunt of the problem. “Even though we may not know the exact magnitude of the problem in different parts of the world, the problem is there and it is growing.
Combating counterfeits is a shared responsibility which should involve relevant government agencies, manufacturers, distributors, health professionals, consumers and the general public. “Governments have to create the appropriate environment for the participation of all concerned.” He continued.
The WHO defines a fake or counterfeit drug as a medicine which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source. A wide range of medicines, including Pfizer medicines, have been counterfeited to date.
Counterfeit drugs can cause serious health problems, and can result in death, as has been the case in some countries where epidemics like malaria have been trea t ed with “medicines” that have contained no active ingredients.
In other cases where the active ingredient is absent or at very low levels, coun terfeit drugs will simply provide no health benefit at all. There are also cases where medicines contain far too much active ingredient and are potentially harmful for that reason.
In addition, counterfeit drugs may have been manufactured in unclean environment s without the normal environmental safety controls, or their production may hav e occurred in a sub-standard environment and they may contain dangerous pollutants . “We believe that patients who require our medicines should get a safe and effect ive medicine and not a potentially dangerous counterfeit,” said Karl Lintel, Pfizer’s Regional Director for Africa.
He said “We are committed as a company to do all we can to keep fake medicines out of the marketplace so that they are not a threat to patient health. “This conference is a demonstration of our commitment.”
Counterfeit medicines are a global problem from which no region is exempt. While it is difficult to accurately describe the full scope of the counterfeiting problem, reported seizures of counterfeit medicines do serve as a useful baseline.
Since 2004, authorities have seized more than 30 million counterfeit Pfizer tablets, and enough active pharmaceutical ingredients to manufacture over 50 million more.