Saturday, February 19, 2005

Fake medicines

Fake medicines

Posted 05:31am (Mla time) Feb 19, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the February 19, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

MEDICINES are essential to the maintenance of health and the survival of life in any society, from the earliest tribal units to the present-day sophisticated communities. Drugs have especially become necessary in the modern world with the intrusion of new and fatal afflictions for which, like the common cold, advances in science have yet to find a cure.

People who consider themselves healthy agree that medicines are a necessity but fortunately not for them. It is a fact of life that does not directly affect them and so does not cause them needless worry. It is only when their muscles begin to ache or their bones start to creak, or their hearts miss a beat or two, or they feel dizzy after a heavy meal, that they accept the mortality of their existence. That is when they decide to think of doctors and, of course, medicines.

Television and radio commercials have dinned on their audience the importance and superior qualities of the cures they are advertising. These come-ons have at least made us health-conscious, which is a virtue that should be encouraged and developed. Many people have abandoned the superstitious practices and ineffectual nostrums they used to depend on when they got sick. They now rely instead on modern well-researched remedies for the alleviation of their ailments.

The problem, however, is that some of these government-approved medicines are, because of their efficacy, being faked by unscrupulous businesses to the prejudice of credulous patients. The lower price of these counterfeit drugs makes them attractive to unsuspecting buyers who are always looking for a bargain, particularly during these cash-strapped times. Little do they realize that this false economy may have an adverse and sometimes even fatal impact upon their health.

Counterfeit medicines are defined as those stealthily manufactured by unscrupulous persons to imitate and compete with genuine medicines duly tested and approved by the government. According to Pfizer, one of the leading drug companies in the country, such fakes may include products labeled to look like the genuine medicines but do not contain the correct kind and amount of ingredients, or may have expired, or may have been illicitly relabeled, each of which offenses may cause the risk of allergy or dangerous interaction with other medicines.

Pfizer deplores the difficulty of telling "the difference between real and fake medicines because counterfeit medicines are copied to make them look like the original. Thinking that these medicines can be trusted, patients, doctors and other medical practitioners often do not even suspect that there is anything wrong with the pills and tablets they use" that may expose themselves to possible harmful effects.

An unregistered imported medicine is also considered counterfeit if there is a counterpart registered branded or generic medicine approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs. Consumers should carefully examine the packaging and labeling of the medicines they buy and be suspicious if this is done with cheap materials or if the medicine does not have a generic name.

"Nearly all medicines are being counterfeited," the drug company adds. "These include familiar everyday medicines like vitamins as well as life-saving ones like antibiotics and anti-hypersensitives." The World Health Organization estimates that the circulation of fake drugs constitutes 6 percent of the world market. Our Department of Health says that 10 percent of medicines in the Philippines are counterfeit.

Realizing the need to combat this serious threat to the health of our people, the Coalition Against Fake Medicines was launched recently under the leadership of the Department of Health as the primary regulatory agency in charge of medicines. It will be supported by the Department of Trade and Industry, which will receive consumer complaints and cancel the licenses of businesses found to be producing or selling the prohibited products. The Department of Justice, also a principal partner, will undertake the prosecution of all persons or companies suspected of the offense.

The private members of the Coalition are the Philippine Medical Association, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the GMA-7 Broadcast Network, Mercury Drug Corporation, the Drugstores Association of the Philippines, Zuellig Pharma Corporation, and Pfizer, which supplied the information for this article through its official publication, HealthLink. Each of these entities is assigned particular functions to make the campaign against pirated drugs a successful over-all effort to achieve its principal objective of protecting the nation's health.

The intended beneficiaries of the Coalition have a stake in its success and so should give it their wholehearted assistance. The willing involvement of the above-named private entities in the movement should give a praiseworthy example for the rest of the country to follow. Fake medicines can stunt the growth of our race and enfeeble the physical well-being of our people, especially the children. Let us not forfeit our future health with our indifference to the problem we should face today.


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