Ministry Continues Battle Against Fake Pharmaceuticals

By David McFadden
September 1, 2005

In an ongoing effort to combat the public health menace of counterfeit drugs, Ministry of Health officials said they plan to launch a new offensive next month to crack down on fake and substandard medication.

The battle to fight sham pharmaceuticals is part of a 2004 plan by the ministry, which set aside funds to heighten public awareness about the dangers of fake drugs and to enhance cooperation among different agencies to stop fake-drug manufacturers.

According to health officials, the counterfeit medication, which includes antibiotics, anti-tuberculosis and anti-malaria drugs, is ineffective at best but can also lead to drug resistance and even death in some cases.

“There are people who died after using counterfeit drugs, but we have no official study on how many people have been killed by fake drugs,” said Yim Yann, president of the Pharmacists Association of Cambodia.

In a recent newsletter of the Society for Malaria Control in Cambodia, health officials said that fake medication has reached an “alarming proportion in Cambodia and its neighbors.”

Officials believe that some counterfeit drugs are produced domestically, but that most are smuggled in through Cambodia’s porous borders.

A World Health Organization-funded study conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2002 showed that 13 percent of medication sold in markets in Phnom Penh and the five outlying provinces was either fake or ineffective. Among imported drugs not registered with the ministry, one out of five turned out to be either counterfeit or substandard.

Poor people are particularly at risk because they are tempted by the lower prices of bogus drugs, said the WHO study.

Health officials pointed out that unregulated pharmacies are a factor behind the dangerous fake drugs. “But their number is decreasing at the present time,” Yim Yann said. “We found out that there are less than 100 pharmacies in Phnom Penh operating without a license.”

The ministry has the responsibility of inspecting and licensing  all pharmacies based on a 1996 law.

The US Food and Drug Administration estimates that counterfeit drugs account for more than 10 percent of the global medicine market while in developing countries such as Cambodia, nearly a quarter of all medicine sold may be counterfeit or substandard. (Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

Although Malaria Cases Are Down, Fatalities Are Up

Statistics from the National Malaria Center show that the number of malaria cases treated through the country’s healthcare system during the first six months of the year dropped by a third compared to the same period last year. From January through June, 29,092 patients were treated for malaria, compared to 39,704 for the first six months of 2004, Duong Socheat, director of the National Malaria Center, said last week. “We distributed the nets on time. We also worked closely with health volunteers in the village,” said Duong Socheat, referring to volunteers in remote villages trained to handle basic malaria care. However, 117 people died due to malaria during that period, an increase of 11 fatalities compared to the first six months of 2004. Still, Duong Socheat believes that the total number of fatalities for the whole year will be lower than in 2004. (David McFadden)