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Asian nations unite against spurious drugs trade

February 12, 2008 11:58 IST

French drugmaker Sanofi-aventis, along with two other multinational pharma companies, will team up with the World Customs Organisation and regulatory authorities of India and four other Asian countries to weed out spurious and counterfeit drugs originating from the region.

The initiative will include special training for Customs and drug regulatory officials to identify spurious drugs, their origin, distribution chain and follow-up action to raid premises and book culprits, in coordination with regulatory and police officials of various countries.

The joint exercises will also involve agencies such as the International Criminal Police Organization, popularly known as Interpol, said Richard John Peasley, Asia Pacific anti-counterfeit manager, Sanofi-aventis.

As part of the initiative, a two-day workshop was held in Mumbai last week, to sensitise and train about 25 Indian customs and regulatory officials.

Sale of fake and spurious drugs in the National Capital Region alone is to the extent of Rs 300 crore annually, and its sales have gone up to 20-25 per cent of the total medicines sold in the region, according to a recent survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.

A majority of the spurious drugs floating in the global drug markets originate from Asian countries, mainly China, India and Pakistan, said Peasley.

Though exact statistics are not available, one out of ten drugs sold in the global markets are either spurious or sub-standard based on the World Health Organisation estimates, he said.

"The statistics are insignificant since this trade kills people worldwide and it is a global social issue," he added.

Sales of counterfeit drugs worldwide are estimated at $32 billion, causing $46 billion annual loss to the global pharmaceutical industry, recent reports said, quoting the director general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria.

Most of the spurious drugs floating in the global markets mainly originate from countries like China, where clandestine laboratories with adequate facilities operate to produce large quantities of spurious drugs, said Wilfrid Roge, director (corporate economic security department), Sanofi-aventis, and a former French Customs official with expertise in global spurious drug trade.

"The products are transported to free trade zones in Dubai in the Middle East and are exported to Latin American countries like Panama. The products are then re-exported to North America and Europe through the United Kingdom and some north European countries," he said.

Currently, the mechanisms to track and seize such products are limited due to inadequate surveillance in most of the countries.

Only 5 per cent of the global drug cargo movement through ports are physically verified by the Customs authorities. Lack of patent protection, uniform laws and less policing in many developing countries contribute to proliferation of counterfeit drugs, said Roge.

P B Jayakumar in Mumbai
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