Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged collective action to protect people from falling victim to the “insidious and illicit” trade in counterfeit medicines, a problem affecting all countries but which hits the poor particularly hard.
“We must join forces to fight this global crime for the sake of international public health,” Mr. Ban told the “Call of Cotonou” meeting held in Benin on the trafficking of counterfeit medicines.
The initiative is the brainchild of former French president Jacques Chirac, and is intended to be the first step of a global campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem and persuading governments to impose tougher penalties and improve routine testing of medications.
In a message delivered by Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Mr. Ban noted that victims of this crime tend to be sick and vulnerable patients desperate for a cure.
“Instead their hopes are dashed by worsening illness or even death when counterfeit medicines fail to address their conditions or contain toxic contaminants,” he said.
“Globalization has brought myriad benefits to the world, but intensified international commerce, the expansion of Internet use and increasing access to technology for manufacturing and printing packages has made it easier for counterfeiters to peddle their harmful wares.”
Mr. Ban added that individuals are not the only ones who suffer, noting that counterfeit medical products undermine the credibility of health systems, waste resources and diminish confidence in the authorities responsible for public safety.
The problem is pervasive, affecting nearly all countries, but developing countries, which often lack the capacity to stop counterfeit products from entering markets, are hit hardest, said the Secretary-General.
“Unscrupulous counterfeiters take advantage of poverty, illiteracy and rural isolation to sell worthless products to innocent victims,” he stated
Noting that organized counterfeiters operate through international networks, Mr. Ban emphasized that only a global response can stop them. He pledged UN support to international agencies, drug and law enforcement bodies, the pharmaceutical industry, health professionals and consumer groups to address this problem.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) says it is hard to know or even estimate the true extent of the problem of counterfeit medicines. In an attempt to respond to this public health crisis, the agency launched the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) in February 2006.
The initiative aims to build coordinated networks across and between countries to halt the production, trading and selling of fake medicines around the globe.