Interpol Seizes $6.65M in Counterfeit HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB Drugs in Southeast Asia
The International Criminal Police Organization recently confiscated $6.65 million worth of counterfeit HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis drugs in Southeast Asia and made 27 arrests as part of a five-month investigation involving nearly 200 raids, Aline Plancon, an officer involved in the operation, said on Monday, Bloomberg reports. During the investigation, called Operation Storm, authorities seized more than 16 million pills between April 15 and Sept. 15 in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The operation was a joint effort between Interpol, the World Health Organization and the World Customs Organization. It was the first time customs officials, drug regulators, health authorities and police from different countries have collaborated to prevent the distribution of counterfeit medicines, Plancon said.
According to Bloomberg, health officials particularly are concerned about fake artemisinin-based combination therapies used to treat malaria. According to a recent study, counterfeit ACTs containing insufficient amounts of artemisinin are contributing to the development of drug-resistant parasites near the border of Cambodia and Thailand. The rise in drug resistance has reduced the effectiveness of genuine ACTs, thus placing more people at risk for developing drug-resistant malaria, Bloomberg reports.
According to WHO and the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, worldwide sales of counterfeit drugs could reach $75 billion by 2010, an increase of more than 90% since 2005. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report released last year identified Asia as the largest producer of counterfeit products worldwide. Of the 1,047 arrests made in 2007 related to counterfeit medicine, about 40% took place in Asia, the Pharmaceutical Security Institute reports (Bennett, Bloomberg, 11/17).
Related Opinion Piece
The seizure by Belgian authorities in September of more than two million fake malaria drugs and painkillers manufactured in India for African distribution "shines a light on one of the most pressing problems in delivering life-saving medicines to the world's poorest patients: the proliferation of low-quality and counterfeit products," Roger Bate, a director of Africa Fighting Malaria and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in a New York Times opinion piece. He adds, "If aid organizations are serious about combating the spread of deadly diseases in the developing world, they must do more to ensure the safety and quality of drugs."
Although WHO reports that about 30% of the world's population lacks essential medicines, "this problem cannot be solved by supplying bogus medicines," Bate writes. According to Bate, insufficient access to drugs has led many governments in developing countries to allow local drug makers to produce cheaper medicines. However, "local producers often make low-quality drugs," he writes, adding that this should be "no surprise" because "[e]ven countries with stringent regulatory systems sometimes turn up bad pharmaceuticals." According to Bate, many developing countries "lack the regulatory structure needed to monitor safety and effectiveness," do not have "laws against selling sub-standard drugs" and lack "sophisticated agencies like the FDA with the trained inspectors and laboratories needed to analyze pharmaceuticals."
According to Bate, it is "essential" for these countries to enact regulations, establish monitoring agencies and build scientific capacity to oversee drug manufacturing and inspect imported and local drugs. Bate also identifies three ways that international aid organizations can help ensure drug quality: providing financial and technical support; refusing to subsidize low-quality drugs; and insisting that only medicines approved by "stringent drug agencies like the FDA" be distributed. Bates writes, "If aid organizations are serious about combating the spread of deadly diseases in the developing world, they must do more to ensure the safety and quality of drugs." He concludes, "Thousands of lives depend on their efforts" (Bate, New York Times, 11/15).