By Laura MacInnis
Criminals are using the Internet to sell increasing quantities of
counterfeit medicines, including fake versions of bird flu drug
Tamiflu, a senior U.N. health expert said on Tuesday.
Vitamin and health supplements, so-called "lifestyle medications" like
erectile dysfunction drugs, and steroids bought over the Internet were
especially likely to be false.
Antibiotics, anti-malarials and pain killers were also susceptible to
fraud because of the huge demand, while Tamiflu, made by Swiss firm
Roche, had also entered the market amid rising avian flu fears.
"Yes, there have been cases reported in counterfeit Tamiflu," said
Howard Zucker, the World Health Organisation's assistant director
general for health technology and pharmaceuticals.
But he declined to give details on the quantity or where the fake
drugs had been found, except to say that often times, the fake drugs
get mixed in with the real drugs and physicians unwitttingly use
them. "They think they are giving a badly needed flu shot to an older
person; it turns out to be counterfeit, and possibly kills the person."
The WHO has estimated as many as 10 percent of drugs on the world
market are mislabeled or fake, with the phoney medicines sometimes
causing illness and even death in consumers.
Speaking to reporters after a high-level meeting in Rome, where
pharmarceutical industry and health experts agreed to set up a task
force to fight the counterfeit drug trade, Zucker said better
oversight of online drug sales was essential. "It ought to be an
extremely serious offense to do this, especially to vulnerable groups
of people; seniors, new-borns, etc."
At the meeting, the U.N. health body said it would help set up an
international expert group to raise awareness about fake drugs and to
improve cooperation between governments, industry groups and
international agencies on the issue.
"Counterfeiting medicines should be distinguished from other types of
counterfeiting which do not affect human health and should be combated
and punished accordingly," the conference participants said in a
statement at the end of their meeting.
Harvey Bale, director general of the International Federation of
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, said fake medicines remain
more prevalent in developing countries than in places like Western
Still, Bale stressed patients in the rich world were increasingly
vulnerable to counterfeit drugs distributed online. He said the new
task force would look into that growing sector.
"The Internet needs to be addressed, clearly," he said.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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