About a fortnight ago, a vigilant citizen from Ghana, brought suspicious looking samples of a medicine “ Coartem” , supposed to have been manufactured by drug manufacturer,‘Novartis’, to an office of Ghana Foods and Drug Board(FDB) . After due tests, FDB confirmed that the drug was lacking any active ingredient and was presumably counterfeit. ‘Coartem’ is a very widely used drug to fight malaria in most of the developing countries. Imagine administering a tablet of this drug, to a near and dear one who is down with fever, only to find that the medicine is having no effect. This scenario sounds scary, but this seems to be happening to many people around the globe, in particular to people from developing countries.
Unfortunately, in above and almost all such other cases of detected counterfeit drugs, the needle of suspicion always points towards India. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that almost 75 per cent of fake and counterfeit drugs exported the world over accrue from India. ASSOCHAM reports, that about 20% drugs sold in India are counterfeit and the market for spurious drugs is growing by 25 per cent each year. Things have become so bad that recently US drug controller banned 30 drugs manufactured by RANBAXY, India’s largest drug manufacturer. It was asked to furnish credible evidence that its manufacturing processes are adequate.
There is a new angle now in counterfeit drugs trade. Recently, Nigeria’s pharma regulator reported the detention of a large consignment of fake drugs for treating malaria. The consignment carried `Made in India’ labels but was actually produced in China. A laboratory test of the consignment of ‘Maloxine’ and ‘Amalar’ tablets proved that these were fake. Had the drugs flowed into the market, over 600,000 lives would have been affected. Government of India has since lodged a complaint with Chinese.
The size of India’s pharmaceutical industry is Rs 85,000 crore, out of which Rs. 35000 crore worth of pharma products are being exported. With such high stakes, it is expected that drastic counter measures would be taken up by Government of India to effectively curb the menace.
It is true that the Government has recently announced some changes and measures. Government has established drug-testing laboratories in 23 states and six central drug laboratories have been strengthened.
Recently, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act has been amended to provide stricter penalties for offences under the Act. Particularly regarding to those, engaged in making of spurious, adulterated, misbranded and substandard drugs. The maximum penalty goes up to life imprisonment and fine of Rs 10 lakh or three times the value of confiscated goods whichever is more. Most of the offences are now cognisable and non-bailable.
The main problem, as with any other Government action, is the implementation. With wide spread corruption and known inefficiency of the Government machinery one can only hope for the things to improve. At individual level what can we do? Firstly, we should always buy medicines from a known chemist with well-established business. Secondly, if we even have a slightest doubt about any medicine, we should report it to the Food and Drug controller’s office.
Counterfeit medicines have become a national disgrace for India. It’s high time, that we do something about it.
26 July 2009