WHO goes online to fight fake drugs
(8 May 2005: VIDYYA MEDICAL NEWS SERVICE) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) is to harness the power of the Internet in its war on counterfeit drugs. At a workshop in Manila, Philippines, from 4 to 6 May, the global health body unveiled its Rapid Alert System (RAS) – the world's first web-based system for tracking the activities of drug cheats.
The Rapid Alert System communications network will transmit reports on the distribution of counterfeit medicine to the relevant authorities for them to take rapid countermeasures. National health authorities and other partner agencies will be linked to the system.
"We hope that the Rapid Alert System will considerably strengthen our hand against the counterfeiters," said Dr Budiono Santoso, WHO's Regional Adviser in Pharmaceuticals for the Western Pacific Region. "Rapid communication and efficient exchange of information are crucial to combating counterfeiting."
Between 6% and 10% of medicine on the world market is reported to be counterfeit with estimated sales of over US $35 billion a year. The problem is most serious in developing countries, including the Mekong region of South-East Asia.
Counterfeit medicine can result in prolonged illness or death as well as wastage of health-care resources. Fake drugs containing lethal ingredients can also result in death.
A 2001 study undertaken in Mekong countries indicated that more than one third of antimalarial artesunate products in Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam contained no active ingredients. A follow-up study in 2004 showed that the situation had worsened, with 99 out of 188 artesunate samples found to be counterfeit.
Counterfeit medicine is often distributed across national boundaries. WHO stressed that effective measures to protect people from counterfeit drugs require collaboration and coordination among relevant stakeholders in each country, between member countries and relevant partner organizations.
The Manila workshop is organized by the WHO Regional Offices for the Western Pacific and South-East Asia.
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