Fake drugs round-up - a focus on India
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
A summary of recent news stories related to fake and counterfeit medicines in India.
A huge fake drugs racket has been busted in Chennai, India, where a league of miscreants has been selling expired medicines. The medicines have had their packaging tampered with, to disguise their expiration. The story is receiving considerable, animated press coverage in the region, as well as in national newspaper such as the Times of India. One person was arrested at Chennai airport, allegedly attempting to flee. At least one other suspect is thought to have fled successfully (for now).
One report states that 500 cases relating to spurious drugs are stuck in the courts, some of which have been there for 15 years. IPN has previously argued that this is a key factor of environments in which fake drugs thrive. We have pointed to cases in Latin America, where there are huge backlogs in cases relating to trademark infringement. Recently a lead figure of NAFDAC admitted that some cases in Nigeria last for a decade or longer.
Another report states that drug inspectors are not doing their jobs, and alludes to corruption in this area. Again, IPN has argued that corruption amid such officials often means that increasing regulation can do more harm than good.
The Times of India, meanwhile, report a mix-up between police and drug control officials and apparent confusion over the law.
Elsewhere in India, three stories details cases of fake drugs in the Tamil Nadu region. One involves fake cough syrup, which will alarm everyone familiar with the many deaths of young children (in Africa, and other parts of the world) who have been fed cough syrup and teething syrup which turned out to be fatally substandard, containing a chemical used in "anti-freeze".
In spite of these stories, and another from Uttar Pradesh, and the news that the fake Viagra discovered in Prague is from India, the Indian government continues to lobby internationally on behalf of its domestic pharmaceutical industry. Government officials are still lobbying in Africa on behalf of Indian-produced drugs, and officials are pressuring the World Health Organisation (WHO) to remove itself from attempts to re-define "counterfeit medicines".
Many Indian drugs are very high quality, and people globally must be free to take advantage of their often-cheaper prices. But this does not mean that the Indian government should be lobbying on behalf of the industry, and certainly not playing down the existence of fakes. Furthermore, the WHO is involved in many issues which relate to both intellectual property and health. I don’t recall opposition to the health-related interventions in the formulation of TRIPS, for example. It is therefore perfectly reasonable for the WHO to oppose trademark violations which endanger the heath of patients, and especially the poor.