The 4th International Conference on Falsified and Substandard Medical Products kicked off today at the Dubai Exhibition Center-Expo 2020, bringing together high-profile speakers and dignitaries from local, regional and international health organizations concerned with combating counterfeit medicines.
The two-day event, which will conclude tomorrow November 22, is discussing ways to pool national and international efforts to combat counterfeit medicines as well as ways of enhancing public awareness of the health risks and serious effects of using falsified medicines.
More than 10 Gulf, regional and international organizations are taking part in the event, including the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as other organizations specializing in the pharmaceutical industry and anti-counterfeiting, in addition to experts from different countries of the world.
Prominent speakers from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the British Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the European Medicines Agency, the UN, the World Customs Organization and the Medicrime Convention Council of Europe Action Against Crime Department, are also participating in the global event.
Fighting counterfeit medicine
HE Dr. Amin Hussain Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary of Health Regulation Sector, and President of the Conference, affirmed that the UAE leadership and local authorities are paying utmost attention to the pharmaceutical sector. "The UAE is one of the best countries in fighting against counterfeit medicines in coordination and cooperation with relevant international organizations, especially the WHO, the UN, the World Customs Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration,".
"According to official statistics by the World Health Organization, 1% of the medicines available in developed countries are fake, while the percentage goes up to reach 10% in some African and East Asian countries and to 33% in some developing countries. In addition, 50% of the medicines sold online are bogus," Al Amiri said, adding that counterfeiting operations mostly target medications of high value, or those with a high consumption rate, or the most sought-after medicines.
He emphasized that the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) together with local health authorities in the country are doing every effort to combat drug counterfeiting through electronic programs and smart applications using the latest technologies to easily distinguish between authentic drugs and bogus ones within a few minutes.
"The UAE health authorities are constantly coordinating with the Federal Customs Authority and local customs departments to boost drug counterfeiting efforts and enhance the UAE’s global reputation as one of the best countries in using and registering innovative and similar medicines while supporting the import and re-export programs of innovative drugs," Al Amiri added.
"In light of these outstanding efforts, several international pharmaceutical companies have chosen to base their global and regional headquarters in the UAE, where the total number of scientific offices has reached 91. In addition, they launch their logistical services from the UAE, through which 41 countries in the world are supported with medicines and medical supplies," he noted
Al Amiri stressed that the UAE's distinction in combating fake medicines is not only protecting its people from possible health risks and complications but also protecting other countries that are getting supplied with medicines through the UAE.
UAE measures to combat counterfeit medicines
Speaking about the UAE measures taken to combat bogus medicines, Al Amiri said: “Every year, the Ministry of Health issues hundreds of circulars and warnings about falsified medicines, which are monitored by the Supreme Pharmacovigilance committee, chaired by the Ministry together with all competent health authorities nationwide. The ministry is directly linked to the WHO’s Uppsala Monitoring Centre (UMC) and is constantly monitoring websites that market medicines. The UAE is doing its best to shoulder its responsibility and play its full role in combating falsified drugs”.
Speaking during the conference, Dr. Rogerio Gaspar, Director of Regulation and Prequalification Department, World Health Organization, said that the value of counterfeit medicines in low-income countries is estimated at $30.5 billion. However, some of these countries have achieved advanced efficiency and continuous self-development by 28% last year (2020).
"In 2013, the WHO launched the drug control and audit program, to improve the quantity and quality of data related to fake and substandard medicines, and analyze available data to prevent and monitor bogus medicines and take necessary actions accordingly to protect public health," Gaspar said.
He added that the organization has a global database of substandard and falsified medicines, according to reports it receives from regulatory authorities in member states.
Gaspar said that such database helps the organization provide technical and practical support to protect societies, backed by the track and trace system for medicinal products, which also helps prevent counterfeit medicines from being listed within the regulated supply chains, thus improving drug safety and protecting patients.
Stressing the importance of the event, Magdy Abdou, Regulatory Affairs Director at Servier, Scientific office Manager, said that the conference provides an ideal platform to support the fight against counterfeit medicine; and highlights mechanisms of preventing the smuggling of such drugs to global markets and selling them online through social media platforms and smartphone apps.
"Today, participants are having a great opportunity to discuss measures of protecting patients from counterfeit and falsified medicines as they can cause serious complications. Through its interactive sessions, participants will also discuss the possibility of classifying fake medicine as an organized crime, as it deliberately targets patients, and is considered one of the top crimes targeting patients in low-income countries," Abdou said.
He clarified that counterfeit pharmaceutical products reflect negatively on health systems wherever they are found, causing a loss of confidence in medicines produced by licensed companies, health care service providers, and health systems.