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Healthcare Issues / 27 Sep 2018

Ministry of Health and Prevention focuses on intellectual property to combat Counterfeit Medicines and Illicit Drugs to protect citizen’s health

Ministry of Health and Prevention focuses on intellectual property to combat Counterfeit Medicines and Illicit Drugs to protect citizen’s health

The UAE has been among the global leaders in the fight against counterfeit drugs and implements a regional drug alert system, in line with its membership with the World Health Organization (WHO) – Uppsala Monitoring Centre, and that the country relentlessly works to develop regulatory legislation in accordance with international best practices, said H.E. Dr. Amin Hussein Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary of Public Health Policy and Licensing Sector, Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP). 

Dr. Al Amiri was speaking during a speech on the opening day of the 2018 International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference to Combat Intellectual Property Crimes in the presence of His Excellency Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, Deputy Chief of Police and Public Security in Dubai.

MOHAP’s strategy against drug fraud

Dr. Al-Amiri noted that the Ministry has developed a monitoring system for the pharmaceutical market in the UAE and is updated on international advisories, leading the consistent monitoring of drug safety through the Supreme Committee for Pharmacovigilance, with representatives from all local health bodies. MOHAP is directly linked to the Uppsala Monitoring Centre of the WHO.

He added that the UAE Government’s strict regulations have succeeded in reducing the spread of counterfeit medicines within UAE, and the country remains firm in upholding its commitment by continuously improving its regulatory structure and coordinating with TRA to block sites that promote counterfeit medicines.

The Ministry follows a five-point strategy to combat Illicit drugs, first of which include communications, education and awareness, organizing of bi-annual conference on the fight against drug fraud in partnership with regional and international experts, as well as reaching out to the public through periodic media announcements to raise awareness on the risks of buying drugs online. The second strategy focuses on strengthening cooperation with concerned government and private organizations and involving them in various committees to help combat the proliferation of the counterfeit drugs. The third strategy points to raising quality control and efficiency standards by improving the capabilities of the Quality Control Laboratory at the Dubai Research and Biotechnology Park in Dubai. The fourth strategy concentrates on securing the supply chain, and the fifth focuses on reinforcing the monitoring system and increase efforts in ensuring the UAE drug market is free of counterfeit medicines.

When Medicines turns into a Disease

Dr. Al-Amiri noted that selling of fake drugs is part of an organized crime, according to the World Health Organization, as these medicines deliberately target patients especially those suffering from chronic diseases. It is the number one crime against patients all over the world.

Fraud drugs are more dangerous than some diseases

Dr. Al Amiri explained that counterfeit medicines are drugs that are manufactured outside the legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturing system for the purpose of deceiving users by copying the original medicines, and may contain effective substances less than or greater than the suggested therapeutic dose, or improper and ineffective ingredients such as starch, chalk, or even harmful and sometimes poisonous ingredients. These drugs are manufactured in unsanitary conditions, leading to contamination. Often, fake drugs are boxed in packaging like those of original medicines, thus making it a crime of fraud.

Al Amiri emphasized that counterfeit medicines range from useless to a high degree of risk and that the person who uses the counterfeit medication puts his health, even his life in danger. He explained in detail some facts about drug fraud based on global studies and research, showing that most counterfeit drugs have 32.1 per cent do not contain the active ingredients, 21.4 per cent have wrong ingredients, 20.2 per cent contain incorrect amounts of the active ingredient, and 15.6 per cent are in the counterfeit packaging. About 8.5 per cent of these products contain high levels of impurities, toxins, and pollutants and 1 per cent are merely empty packets.

Global facts on counterfeit drugs

A World Bank 2016 report showed that USD 85 billion in global trading value per year, with USD 1 trillion in annualized value, was lost from the global economy. A 122 per cent growth in counterfeit medicines during 2010-2015 was also noted. A report by the World Health Organization in 2017 revealed that 10 per cent of the total global drug trade was counterfeit medicines, while 53 per cent of fake drugs are medicines classified as life-saving. 

Quality and safety of medicines in UAE

Dr. Al Amiri said that the Ministry monitors any violation of drug regulations and adherence to laws, including prescriptions of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, in the country. It also sets the standards and oversees the registration of medical products according to international best practices using the established systems, including the GS1 system. Ministry officials are tasked to control drug prices and set the profit margins for pharmacies and distributors as well. They analyze pharmaceutical products and medicines at the Ministry's laboratory as well as protect intellectual property rights for innovative medicines.

Anti-drug fraud strategy

The Ministry’s anti-drug fraud strategy comprises five key elements. First is hosting public meetings and conferences to raise community awareness. Second is to issue public advisors to warn community members about the risk of buying medicines from dubious online websites. The third is to strengthen cooperation and participation with relevant stakeholders; enhance quality control and efficiency at the Ministry’s Pharmaceutical Control Laboratory through the adoption of technology. Fourth is to securing the supply chain by rolling our various initiatives such as the first smart medicine box by global pharmaceutical company Sanofi. Fifth is to strengthen surveillance and monitoring systems to ensure all medicines in the UAE market are safe.

Detection of counterfeit medicines within seven seconds

The TruScan device) TruScan RM analyzer (, the world's most sophisticated device for detecting counterfeit medicines across the country's air, sea and land frontiers, is one of the most important means of combating counterfeit medicines. It can detect fake medicines in their various forms (tablets, capsules, liquids, powders) for a maximum of seven seconds. The Ministry has distributed seven devices to the country's vital points such as the Abu Dhabi Airport, Sharjah Airport, Jebel Ali Port, and the Postal port, in addition to the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s Quality Laboratory. 

IP policy in the medical field 

The Ministry of Health and Prevention has developed a national policy on intellectual property as part of its Cabinet-approved strategic plan to modernize and develop health policies and legislation as well as promote public-private partnerships in the local medical field.   The Ministry aims to promote the country’s health, economic, scientific, and cultural development through the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights. Strong IP policies is a tool to encourage innovators to embark on scientific research and other relevant creative activities. They also protect society from the dangers of counterfeit and fraudulent medicines and medical supplies.

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