Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals a Problem in Kurdistan
|July 31, 2011||Filled under Iraq Daily News|
Doctors and supply companies have agreements at the expense of patients
Dyar Hussein (not his real name), before he worked in a pharmacy, thought medicines were a good thing. He thought medicines could always help. However, after seeing so many counterfeit medicines, he is disgusted. “Now my only slogan is: Try not to take any medicine. There are so many medicines in the market that do more harm than good.”
For patients, it is difficult to tell the difference between fake medicines and genuine, high-quality ones, because the packaging and the medicines are identical. Even pharmacists have trouble telling the difference. “Only the price tells us which is a copy and which is original,” said Hawre Abdullah, a pharmacist in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan Region. Abdullah said at least the pharmaceutical suppliers are honest about the medications. “When they sell us medicines, they tell us which ones are fake.”
In a seminar organized by Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical company, Dominique Woloch, director of security for the Middle East, said before the company started its investigation in the Middle East, it thought counterfeit medicines were only manufactured in China. “The investigation showed 192 cases [copied medicines] were from China, 106 from India, 49 from Paraguay, eight cases from Syria and eight cases from Thailand.” Woloch agreed that it is extremely hard to distinguish fake medicines from original medicines by appearance. Only lab tests can reveal the true ingredients. He said French pharmaceutical companies put codes on their products and the codes were only known by the company. Nevertheless, the codes were stolen and the same codes are now on the counterfeit drugs.
In Kurdistan, most of the pharmacies and clinics sell fake medicines. The pharmacies say at least half of their customers prefer cheap, fake medicines to expensive, genuine ones. Abdullah said because low-quality medicines have dominated the market for years, people have lost trust in all medicines. Some believe all medicines in the market are fake. Because the counterfeit medicines look identical to the original ones, some people argue with pharmacists about price. “When I say the price of fake flu tablets is 5,000 Iraqi dinars and the price of original flu tablet is 20,000 ID, some patients do not trust me and take the fake one, as they believe both are the same,” said Abdullah.
Every two months, representatives from the Pharmacists’ Syndicate search pharmacies and seize any fake medicines they find. There are about 30 pharmacies in Erbil. The Ministry of Health praises the syndicate’s efforts; it believes it is one of the most effective ways to take counterfeit medications off the market. Hussein says the searches aren’t that effective. “When the syndicate raids a pharmacy, the owner immediately calls the other the stores to hide their fake medicines, and all of them do it instantly.”
Hussein said most of the members of the Pharmacists’ Syndicate own pharmacies selling fake medications. The pharmacies blame the suppliers for the fake medications and the suppliers blame the importers. Hussein believes the importers who bring fake medicines have “political” support.
Hussein said doctors and clinics add to the problem by selling counterfeit medications. Before Hussein worked in pharmacy, his mother bought her medicines from a clinic. When Hussein started working for a pharmacy and became familiar with the medicines and their contents, he checked the refrigerator and found his mother had many fake medicines. “The medicines did more harm to my mother rather than curing her. I immediately threw all the medicines out and warned my mother never to buy medicine from the clinic.”
Hussein says many pharmaceutical supply companies have special agreements with doctors, at the expense of the patients. For example, a company approaches a doctor and tells him if he prescribes a certain medicine to patients the company will pay for his vacation. Hussein believes many doctors accept such offers.
Hussein thinks the government could easily stop this problem by tightening customs and by prosecuting importers and supply companies that sell counterfeit medicines. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” he concluded.
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