Fake medical supplies pose a serious threat

May 5, 2021

Even as the world is still reeling under the dire effects of a deadly virus, the health care workers and hospital staff have emerged as the front runners in the fight against the virus. However, they never suspected that the virus aside will also have to deal with an unknown enemy rising in the shadows, which poses an equal threat to mankind.

An Old Enemy – A New Threat

Fake medical supplies and fake medicines have always lurked around across the medical world challenging the healthcare system time and again. The pandemic has just brought it to the forefront. As per the recent study conducted by the WHO, one out of ten medical products in under-developing and developing countries is found to be fake or low in quality. During the pandemic’s peak, Interpol conducted an operation, “Operation Pangea” in more than 90 countries to detect counterfeit medical suppliers. With an exponential increase in the demand for medical supplies such as PPE kits, surgical masks, testing kits, and so on, it has become imperative for the governing bodies to take notice of fraudulent manufacturers and nip them in the bud.

Impending Risks

And rightly so because the risks involved with these fake supplies are very concerning. The medical fraternity has to tackle duplicity for three factors, drugs, medical supplies and, medical devices. Each aspect poses a different kind of risk. A counterfeit drug can contain the wrong component or wrong measurements of the effective component or a complete lack of effective component. This level of falsification can be achieved by the fake suppliers for general drugs such as a simple fever medicine or an ailment-specific drug such as a drug treating cancer. The drugs with wrong components or wrong measurements can adversely affect the health of the patient, some even leading to fatalities. In addition to adverse health effects in a patient, the toxicity of these fake drugs can also cause harm to nature in general. These fraudulent drugs are very difficult to detect which again adds to the potential hazard to the medical industry.

The counterfeit medical devices and supplies industry is a hassle-free industry that can be set up by anyone. During the pandemic, many cloth manufacturers in India have started selling face masks and gloves. How effectively these masks keep the virus at bay cannot be determined. Similarly, bogus suppliers do away with rigorous testing of devices and roll them out in the market without a proper quality check.

A recent study conducted in India shows that 8-10 % of all the medical equipment supplied to the healthcare fraternity is coming from a bogus manufacturer. Although India is one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers with its “Make in India” initiative, it still imports a large chunk of its raw material from other countries to make drugs. These drugs usually fail the quality test as bogus players in the market have contaminated the overall sanctity of the system by constantly supplying fake drugs.

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Abate the risks and take responsibility.

Citing all the risks involved with fake medical supplies, the healthcare operators and responsible civilians must make sure that the product they are buying, be it drugs, supplies, or devices and equipment are of good quality coming from an authentic manufacturer.

It is the collective responsibility of society to quash these fake suppliers and restore trust and faith in the overall healthcare system. A large part of this responsibility mostly lies in detecting them effectively.

Make a Checklist.

Some of the effective methods to spot these counterfeit players before buying drugs and medicines, to help reduce subsequent circulation in the market are as follows:

  • Check the seal on the product before buying that is if the bottle is broken or damaged.
  • Inspect the packaging of the product for its spelling, font, or color of the font.
  • The WHO has also helped set some standards for a visual examination of the product which involves looking for:
    • Discoloration, swelling, or shrinking of the tablet.
    • Broken tablets in the container or strip
    • Residual powder at the bottom of the tablet container
    • Unusually soft or hard nature of the medicines
    • Compromised nature of the medicine container or tablet strips such as crystallization
  • Compare the price of the medicine to check if there is a substantial reduction.
  • Check for any adverse side effects or other symptoms such as allergies after consumption of the prescribed dosage.
  • Examine the basic information on the product such as contents, expiry, and batch number of the product.
  • Review the authenticity of the product from a government-approved portal or website if available.
  • Buy only prescribed drugs from trusted online websites.
  • Refrain from sharing financial details or private information unless it is a trustworthy website.
  • Avoid buying medicines from manufacturers that give false promises such as the cure for all diseases and so on

In addition to taking precautions while buying drugs, it is also important for healthcare professionals to be aware of malpractices when buying medical devices. Some of the ways to detect them are as follows:

  • Check the device for a Unique Identification Number (UDI), a hologram, or a barcode specific to a particular manufacturer or product to identify the fake from the original ones.
  • Generate awareness among the medical fraternity to detect fraudulent products and raise a flag for future transactions.
  • Check for any damages in the three-layered packaging of the product, primary, secondary, and finally the shipper’s packaging.
  • Examine and test the product with the help of trained quality assurance personnel to avoid major consequences.
  • Secure the supply chain by placing some digital solution that detects the bogus manufacturers by crosschecking their address, name, and so on.

Apart from all these precautions, all the countries in the world need to come together and form a governing body to create awareness among people regarding fraudulent manufacturers and also curb such fraud that puts people’s lives at risk.

by Kinza Khan
by Kinza Khan

May 5, 2021