Illicit trade in counterfeit medicines worth US$4.4 bn

The pharmaceutical market is an attractive one for counterfeiters as consumers can be easily deceived.

According to the new Study on Illicit Trade in Fake Pharmaceuticals report, the pharmaceutical market is an attractive one for counterfeiters, as consumers can be easily deceived into believing that counterfeits are genuine.  It shows that in 2016, international trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals reached US$4.4 billion, representing 2.2 % of trade in pharmaceuticals.  The report is jointly published by the OECD Task Force on Combatting Illicit Trade and European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

The report shows that the pharmaceutical market is attractive for counterfeiters, as consumers can be easily deceived into believing that the counterfeit products are genuine. The list of counterfeits in the report is alarming, including medication for various kinds of diseases, including malaria, HIV/AIDS and cancer.  

In addition, the report shows counterfeit antibiotics, lifestyle drugs and painkillers were the most targeted by counterfeiters.  Other counterfeit pharmaceuticals target treatment for diabetes, epilepsy, heart diseases, allergy, blood pressure, and stomach ulcers ailments as well as local anesthetics.

Amidst the wave of counterfeit medicines and medical products aimed exploit consumers concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanislas Barro, Global Head of Anti-counterfeiting at Novartis, added, “While we are already facing numerous incidents of falsified Covid-19 masks, hydro alcoholic gels, testing kits and possible treatments, the OECD-EUIPO report is timely and underscores the urgent need to adopt a strong international policy framework and allocate adequate resources to more effectively combat the illicit trade of falsified medicines and protect patients.”

“It is imperative to protect patients, healthcare systems and the wider society from the negative impacts of ingesting substandard, falsified, unregistered and unlicensed medical products,” said Jeffrey Hardy, Director-General of the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT).  The illicit trade in pharmaceuticals undermines UN goals for good health and the ability to treat and prevent disease, particularly for the weakest and most vulnerable in society.

To improve the government response to illicit trade in pharmaceuticals, TRACIT has called on the OECD Task Force to identify, analyze and disseminate effective policy and good practices to assist OECD member states to better regulate illicit trade in pharmaceuticals. This is consistent with the organization’s mandate to design and promote good practices in public policies to identify the governance gaps that facilitate illicit trade and to reduce and deter illicit trafficking and smuggling.

“The OECD’s quantitative studies are extremely useful, but the fight against illicit trade is an uphill battle that calls for the OECD to demonstrate the policy leadership that it’s renowned for,” said Hardy. “Governments inside and outside OECD are hungry for effective public policies, and the task force has an important opportunity to fill this gap by mapping the best of the best and helping us close governance gaps that foster illicit trade.”

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