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We continue exploring the prevailing perceptions.
Most of the Medicines are Fake – this is another popular perception. There are reasons for this. There are talks from ‘certain sources’ who claim that 70-80% medicines on the market are fake. It appears to have stopped for some time, but every now and then a raid is staged on a manufacturing unit and huge piles of fake drugs are shown. The news remains alive for 48-72 hours which is the average age of such news. What happens afterwards is not known. There is no information about any conviction in this regard. I saw one such case closely where a lot of dust was raised initially. It settled after some time and though criminal case was quickly registered, but it fizzled out later due to lack of credible evidence. The case was initiated on fake grounds to begin with.
Our ‘responsible’ officials and leaders also make unsubstantiated, irresponsible statements now and then. Their motivation is not clear, but it cannot be fair. These people actually cause damage to industry, cause damage to export activities, and cause damage to confidence of people at home.
Due to these unfair activities, the perception has been strongly rooted in the public mind that Pakistan market has nothing but fake medicines. Let us look at various aspects and see if this perception can hold true.
Pharma Drugs Cannot be Manufactured in Home or Backyard – Tablets, capsules, Injections etc. are the common types of drugs. These require sophisticated equipment to manufacture and package. The manufacturing and packaging environment also need to be maintained for temperature and humidity, otherwise the product shall go bad quickly. All this requires integrated set of equipment which need space to install, a high voltage electric connection to run machines, compressor to produce compressed air and various sets of tools. Multiple materials are required, a certain formulation is required, and expertise is required to produce tablets or capsules which look similar to real. Making injections is even more complex. The summary is that drugs can only be produced in a proper pharma manufacturing unit. You must remember that Pharma units can be established only after series of approvals from DRAP and other government agencies. Pharma units working is regulated, production is regulated, and sale is also regulated. This leaves us with only two possibilities. One, the manufacturing unit is operating outside Pakistan and sending drugs here; two, a licensed unit is involved in criminal activity. For the first one, there is no place near Pakistan from where the drugs can be brought to Pakistan in bulk. Smuggled drugs from India and Iran are available on the market but never in big quantities. For the second, the possibility of a licensed manufacturing unit producing fake drugs can be possible only with the collusion of relevant authorities.
Therefore, on merit, large scale production of fake drugs secretively is not possible.
Channels for Sale of Fake Medicines are not Available – The pharmacy business has greatly changed in the last twenty years. New, proper, upscale pharmacies have replaced old, small, dingy pharmacies. The sales volumes have increased. The income of pharmacies has increased. The stakes are too high now for a pharmacy to try to sell a fake drug, get caught and destroy its business. I can say it with guarantee that no proper pharmacy is involved in selling fake drugs. No licensed distributor is involved in distributing fake drugs. If at all a fake product is selling, it would be on a severely limited scale, from individual to individual, away from the main areas, and in remote places. I have not personally seen fake drugs in bulk in my 45 years of working. We faced few isolated cases. One case was in a small town where a sweeper collected empty antibiotic injection vials from hospital ward and gave to someone who filled some cheaper antibiotic into it and sealed it crudely again. These tampered vials were kept at one small pharmacy outside the hospital from where it was sold to such customers who were illiterate. The case was traced quickly, and the culprits were apprehended. The summary is that it is well-nigh impossible to sell fake drugs from proper channels.
New Security Features have been Built in Packaging – Initially it was the initiative of Pharma companies, then made mandatory by DRAP to include high security features in the packaging of all drugs. Pharma companies add some additional features in more expensive drugs. It is reasonable to understand that fake versions shall always be made of expensive drugs, because it is no use making low cost fake drugs. Most expensive drugs have additional features in packaging to ensure authenticity and security. These may include holograms, special seals, special packaging components, special printing styles and more. Fake medicines simply cannot copy these features.
The hype around availability of fake drugs in Pakistan is not based on facts; it may be a result of biases, vested interests, and organized effort from certain state and non-state actors to malign Made-in-Pakistan drugs. Public should know the facts and should be able to distinguish facts from propaganda.
To be Continued……