Friday, April 9, 2010

Egypt’s Bitter Pill

In the April 2010 issue of Business Today, Jessica Gray writes an excellent expose highlighting the booming healthcare issue of counterfeit drugs in Egypt.

The well written story moves from the unsophisticated manufacture, through troubling statistics from regulatory and industry experts and ultimately into Egypt’s efforts to fight this deadly problem.

While Egypt is experiencing a very significant influx of counterfeiting it seems clear that they are not alone in the Middle East or the world in how this deadly problem grows in size and scope.

The story that is told by Ms. Gray could be set in nearly any country on nearly any continent as this global epidemic proliferates. As with everywhere else on the globe there is a tremendous amount of money to be made illegally, there is little risk of getting caught because of inadequate enforcement, regulations and laws, legitimate dispensers and distributors have low profit margins, the criminals have inroads into the legitimate supply chain and consumers are taken in by the lower prices.

Here are some of the highlights from the Business Today article:

· Industry insiders say counterfeit drug-making operations like this one, discovered last year, are becoming an increasingly common find for law enforcement officials.
· According to government estimates, up to 10% of the medicine on pharmacy shelves is fake, though industry insiders believe the number could be much higher. At the same time, Egypt has become a major hub for the manufacture and export of counterfeit drugs posing as everything from Viagra to medicine used to treat Parkinson’s and potentially-fatal blood disorders.
· All told, the Ministry of Health estimates the counterfeit drug trade in Egypt is worth over LE 1 billion, a number that is expected to grow as the pharmaceutical industry and the government struggle to keep up with forgers. The counterfeit drug business has grown along with Egypt’s legitimate pharmaceutical industry, which is the biggest in the Middle East and North Africa.
· The country produced LE 3.5 billion worth of medicine and drugs last year, beating predictions by almost LE 1 billion, according to the Oxford Business Group, a consultancy.
· That has offered some cover to the counterfeiting industry, which has been propelled by high-profit margins and advances in counterfeiting technology, according to the International Narcotics Control Board, which released its annual report last month in Cairo.
· The most commonly counterfeited products include well-known brands like Viagra. But the health ministry says counterfeiters target any medication they think will make them money, including antibiotics, heart medication and diet pills.
· Mireille Mounir, who works at Zahran Pharmacy in Maadi, says that because medicine is priced according to state regulations, profit margins on most drugs are small. By buying from counterfeiters, whose prices are a fraction of those charged by legitimate distributors, pharmacists can pad their bottom line.
· Dr. Seif Allah Emam, assistant general secretary of the Egyptian Pharmacists Syndicate, says that in most cases the sales aren’t deliberate. About 90% the country’s 130,000 pharmacists do not have enough training to differentiate between brand names and counterfeits, he says.
· Omar Shoukry, public affairs manager for Pfizer Egypt, agrees some counterfeit medicine bears a striking resemblance to the genuine product. “As a Pfizer employee, when I see some of the counterfeits, sometimes I can’t tell if they are genuine or not. They are done so professionally.”
· Though one pharmacist, who asked to remain anonymous, says it’s easy to tell which drugs are counterfeit because they’re significantly cheaper than the originals, especially when bought in bulk from a distributor.
· Youssef says about 7% of the world’s counterfeit drugs were either made here, illegally imported for sale, or transported through the country be sold in Europe and North America. Youssef, who established Risk Free in July 2009, says the estimate comes partly from his extensive network of contacts in the local pharmaceutical industry, as well as intelligence gathering by his company.
· Last year, authorities seized approximately 2.1 million fake Pfizer tablets, according to the pharmaceutical giant’s global intelligence division. Almost all of the drugs were imitation Viagra, a popular prescription drug used to treat erectile dysfunction. The only country in the world where authorities seize more counterfeit Pfizer drugs is China.
· “Sometimes people buy the cheaper drug though they know it is counterfeit. They assume that if they take the genuine drug, they will recover in 10 days, let’s say. If they buy the counterfeited one, they believe they will recover as well, but in 20 days,” says Youssef. “Consumers don’t
understand how [fake drugs] could seriously affect their health.”

Secure Pharma Chain Blog endorses the authentication and verification of all inventories within specific pharmaceutical supply chains to eradicate fraudulent, adulterated and counterfeit drugs.

To read the entire Business Today article, visit:

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