The World Health Organization has called for the establishment of a global task force to fight the growing problem of counterfeit medicines.
The organization hopes that its current conference meeting in Rome will lead to the creation of a force that will then lead the war on fake drugs. WHO indicated that the task force would focus on legislation and law enforcement, trade, risk communications and innovative technology solutions, including public-private initiatives for applying new technologies to the detection of counterfeits and technology transfer to developing countries.
As part of these efforts, the agency said that it would push for stronger global cooperation and political commitment.
Fake drugs are currently estimated to account for more than 10% of the global medicines trade. Particularly insidious, counterfeit medicines dupe sick people into believing they are taking something which will make them well, when it may instead make them sicker or even kill them.
People don’t die from carrying a fake handbag or wearing a fake t-shirt. They can die from taking a counterfeit medicine, explained Howard Zucker, assistant director general for health technology and pharmaceuticals at WHO. International police action against the factories and distribution networks should be as uncompromising as that applied to the pursuit of narcotic smuggling.
Trade in counterfeits is thought to be extremely lucrative, thus making it more attractive to criminal networks. A report released by the Centre for Medicines in the Public Interest, in the US, projects counterfeit drug sales to reach $75 billion in 2010, a 92% increase from 2005.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) and more sophisticated technologies for product tracking within supply chain management systems are being experimented with in some countries. WHO insists that such measures to combat counterfeit medicines need to be expanded and intensified.