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COVID-19 pandemic leads to rise in circulation of counterfeit drugs

Laxmi Yadav, Mumbai
Monday, May 4, 2020, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in the world has led to a rise in falsified drugs entering the supply chain, thus putting public health at risk in domestic as well as global markets.

Till date, around 29 incidents of fake sanitizers and masks have been reported in India. Last month, Operation Pangea, coordinated by Interpol, seized fake pharmaceutical products worth US$ 14 million across 90 countries in a week and arrested 121 people.

The lockdown imposed by the governments across the globe to curtail coronavirus transmission has led to disruption in supply of finished products and raw materials. The demand for essential drugs has increased in the wake of lockdown as people are anxiously stockpiling medicines. The mismatch between demand and supply has led to an increase in production and sale of counterfeit drugs in the market, said Sireesha Yadlapalli, senior director, external affairs, US Pharmacopoeia.

Due to shortage of raw materials and logistics challenges, Indian drug makers are now operating at 50-60% of their manufacturing capacity.

As India supplies 20% of essential drugs to African countries, the low production in India has affected availability of drugs in African continent. Taking advantage of short supply of drugs, counterfeiters have circulated fake drugs in the African markets, said Yadlapalli.

The demand for hydroxychloroquine has gone up tremendously since US president Donald Trump termed it a game changer in COVID-19 treatment. The rising demand has led to circulation of fake hydroxychloroquine in some African countries such as Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon etc, she added.

Echoing her concerns, Nakul Pasricha, president of Authentication Solution Providers' Association (ASPA) said “Falsified drugs are a global problem. It is US$ 200 billion market. Pandemics like coronavirus pandemic spur circulation of counterfeit drugs in the market. One in 10 products circulating in the low and middle income countries is counterfeit or substandard.”

Drug manufacturers need to adopt measures ranging from physical security to traceability solutions to prevent counterfeiting of their brands as well as protect public health, said Pasricha.

The ASPA president said that the circulation of falsified drugs would only rise unless governments across the world come together to tackle the issue.


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