Substandard, fake medical products increased by almost 47% from 2020 to 2021 during pandemic: report

Criminals saw crisis as an opportunity to sell more such products, taking advantage of vulnerability of people in need, ASPA president says

March 29, 2022 06:47 pm | Updated 06:47 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The ASPA has studied the major counterfeit incident noticed during the COVID-19 period. File image for representation.

The ASPA has studied the major counterfeit incident noticed during the COVID-19 period. File image for representation. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

During the COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of substandard and falsified (SF) medical products increased by almost 47% from 2020 to 2021. Trade-in pharmaceutical counterfeits during this period spiked majorly relating to COVID-19 products, including vaccines, medicines, test kits, antibiotics, face masks and sanitizers. This, according to the latest report released by the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association (ASPA), an organisation working against fake medical products.

During the COVID-19 peak, incidents of SF medical were observed in 23 out of 29 States and seven Union Territories. The report pointed out that SF products were impacting every product sector, and the incidents of counterfeiting had risen with a 20% growth from January 2018 to December 2020. Globally also, pharmaceutical SF incidents rose 111% over the past 10 years, say experts.

“Criminals saw the COVID-19 pandemic crisis as an opportunity to sell more substandard and falsified medical products, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the people in need,’’ ASPA president Nakul Pasricha said.

‘Adverse impact went unnoticed’

The tremendous adverse impact of the huge increase in circulation of spurious medicine and medical essentials in the fight against the pandemic had almost gone unnoticed. “It is unfortunate, as criminals produce ineffective or harmful products in packaging that appear identical to genuine products to make them difficult to detect. The circulation and use of these SF medical products violate the Right to Health and slows down the pace of providing quality health services that people deserve. It’s high time for firm action to curb this menace. If preventive steps are taken now, we will be better positioned to deliver effective healthcare to patients,” he stated.

The ASPA has studied the major counterfeit incident noticed during the COVID-19 period and its impact in the country and released a report titled – “Substandard and falsified medical products, learning from COVID-19 Pandemic and Technological tools to ensure medicines and patient safety”.

Authentication ecosystem

The report highlighted the trends on pharmaceutical crime and incidents of SF medical products and recommendations to combat it. “We welcome the Government of India’s decision to make QR Codes mandatory on Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs); however, we suggest a comprehensive approach towards building an authentication ecosystem in the country,’’ it noted.

National authentication projects have been trending internationally for the last few years, with China, Brazil, Turkey, the U.S., and the EU being the pioneers in this area. It had helped them to reduce the shadow market in various industries, improve tax collection and significantly reduce losses incurred by businesses from counterfeit products and illegal trade.

ASPA secretary Chander S. Jeena said, “India should also implement these measures in other sectors to join the league of advanced digital economies.” The report had been made by monitoring and collating news from leading media across the country, the World Health Organisation (WHO) medical alert etc, he added.

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