“Today, virtually every country in the world is grappling with the scourge of counterfeit and unregistered drugs threatening the lives of patients and, by working together, Sri Lankan families can be kept safe from this hazardous problem,” said Ken Kero-Mentz, Economic Officer at the US Embassy. He was addressing a seminar on ‘Protecting Sri Lankan families from counterfeit drugs’ in Kandy this week for the Pharmacy Owners, Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students of Peradeniya University.
The third in a series of planned conferences on the topic, this one too was spearheaded by the Sri Lanka Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) together with the US Embassy, American Chamber of Commerce and National Intellectual Property Organisation (NIPO). The seminar, which was held at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel in Kandy, brought together a distinguished group comprising Dr.Karunaratne Director General of Intellectual Property Sri Lanka, SLCPI members, Health Ministry and Drug Authority officials, Police Officers and Regional Director of Health, Epidemiologist of Kandy, and the Consultant Dermatologist Kandy, to participate in the discussions.
SLCPI President Ananda Samarasinghe in his welcome speech spoke of the methods used by manufacturers of fake drugs and reiterated the need to educate the public in order to combat this menace.
“Counterfeit drug makers are very sharp and cunning. They can mimic the original or genuine drug to such a degree as to mislead the doctor and the pharmacist, and they make these products available at cheap prices so as to induce some pharmacists to purchase them. Eventually, it is the patient looking for a cheaper drug who becomes a victim of this. Therefore, it is important that we create awareness of such mimicry to prevent unsuspecting patients from becoming victims of unscrupulous people or organisations,” he explained.
“Fortunately, we in Sri Lanka are well protected by a strong regulatory body, which is very alert and vigilant. Usually, these drug manufacturers find loopholes when the regulatory and enforcement authorities are weak. That is why in countries like Latin America and the African region the problem is alarmingly high,” he added.
Elaborating on the methods used by fake drug manufacturers, the SLCPI president said that they usually target innovator drugs or well-known brands of generic drugs when making these duplicates. They can enter the market with or without active ingredients, in packaging, very similar to the genuine brands to hoodwink unsuspecting patients. They may carry a brand name sounding more or less the same as the more popular name, or work some jugglery with the spelling, dropping or adding an extra letter or two, so that both products look similar at first glance.
Economic Officer of the US Embassy Kero-Mentz too emphasized that buying, selling, distributing and using counterfeit or fake drugs could have serious and, sometimes, even life-threatening consequences. He spoke of the importance in calling attention to the role that all parties play in ensuring that genuine medicines reach Sri Lanka’s hospitals, doctors, offices, pharmacies and the public.
“We all know how easy it can be to buy and sell pirated and counterfeit goods. Walk down streets and through markets in many countries, including my own, and you’ll find pirated CDs and DVDs, fake bags and fancy watches and pirated software. I think that although many people recognise that what they’re doing is illegal and wrong, they also might see it as a victimless crime. But that’s not the case with counterfeit drugs,” he warned, reiterating that the problem of fake drugs was a serious issue faced by many nations all over the world.
“You are not alone in this fight. It is important when a person goes to the pharmacy to purchase medicine for a sick family member, or orders medicine from an online provider, that he or she can be certain that the medicine is genuine. And for that reason, I’m particularly pleased to see the active participation of Sri Lanka’s pharmacists, chemists and pharmacy students and pharmacy owners today. As you know, you probably play the most critical role in this matter,” he said.
Thanking the participants, and the 55-strong membership of the SLCPI, Ananda Samarasinghe said the members’ representatives are very vigilant of counterfeits of their own products. They are quick to act in bringing to the notice of the authorities the existence of counterfeits and the authorities in turn, have been prompt in taking punitive action against manufacturers of these fake medicines, he said.
Drug regulatory mechanism
Special mention was also made of Director of the Drug Regulatory Authority Dr. V. S. H. Benaragama who, he said, has maintained a highly effective drug regulatory mechanism, under the cosmetic devices of the Drug Authority Act, to minimise the incidence of counterfeit drugs in Sri Lanka; and Chief Food and Drugs Inspector of the Health Ministry K. L. R. Gunasiri, a lawyer by profession, who is rendering an invaluable service in the fight against counterfeit drugs when he could have opted for a more lucrative career.
Commending the SLCPI on putting together this timely seminar, Kero-Mentz said the conference would help everyone concerned to learn a little bit more about the problem and bring into sharper focus, the challenges and opportunities to improve the situation and how to better identify counterfeit drugs.
“I’m particularly pleased to see the active participation of Sri Lanka’s pharmacists, chemists, pharmacy students and pharmacy owners today. As you know, you probably play the most critical role in this matter,” he told the gathering.
“Working together, I believe, we really can make a difference. Working together we can help keep Sri Lanka’s families safe,” he added.