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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fake, expired medicines target of MoH sub-decree

Fake, expired medicines target of MoH sub-decree

The Council of Ministers is considering new laws designed to empower a Ministry of

Health campaign to eliminate the rampant sale of counterfeit drugs and the operation

of unlicensed pharmacies, a range of government health officials said.

Chroeng Sakhan, vice-director of the Food and Drugs department at the Ministry of

Health (MoH), said health officials are concerned that the sale of counterfeit medicine

is spreading in Phnom Penh pharmacies, and that the intake of fraudulent products

has become a "silent killer" of humans in the kingdom.

A Ministry of Health sub-decree that would empower health agents to confiscate fake

medicine and apprehend traffickers is currently before the Council of Ministers,

said Sakhan.

"The medicine used in hospitals is legal, but in markets medicines are sold

that were purchased from European countries, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia

and brought in from different countries," said Tep Lun, general-director of

the Ministry of Health. "The ministry has a plan to get rid of fake medicine."

Minister of Health Nuth Sokhom told the Post that there are a number of counterfeit

drugs available in local markets and that the ministry has advised business owners

not sell fake or expired medicines.

According to Sokhom, the MoH is preparing to file lawsuits against some clinics and

pharmacies operating without licenses and selling counterfeit medicine.

He said that the companies producing or importing medicines must put code numbers

on all drug packages to verify they were approved by the Ministry of Health.

Chann Vicheth, a lawyer for the MoH, confirmed that he is only waiting to see documents

from the ministry before immediately filing court complaints. Vanath said that clinics

and pharmacies found to be operating without a license will be closed or fined.

"Maybe some detailed reports about the dangers of fake medicine are not reaching

the high-ranking officials, because only recently has this become a priority for

government policy," Sakhan said." However, our efforts so far have not

been satisfactory. More needs to be done on this issue."

According to Sakhan, most fake medicine enters the country in the hands of smugglers,

who sneak the substances across Cambodia's borders from neighboring countries. Curbing

such activity has proved difficult, due in part to the health department's lack of

human resources, low budget, and poor management. The problem is compounded by a

weak law enforcement system where specialist police officers do not have the power

to confiscate and destroy the illicit medication, he said.

The problem is worst in the border provinces and in the drug stores surrounding the

Olympic market, said Sakhan.

About 6,000 kinds of medicine have been registered in the ministry; but this represented

only 50 percent of all the drugs on the market, he said. A study by MoH in 2000 showed

that 13 percent of fake medicine is sold through the city's pharmacies.

When the sub-decree is approved, Sakhan expects that counterfeit drug sales will

be reduced as soon as health agents discover the drugs' distributors, and, most importantly,

have the rights to confiscate the drugs.

He said that seven local companies are producing standard quality medicine, and selling

them in Cambodia's markets and pharmacies. The ministry undertakes regular inspections

of the medicines' quality.

For the past few years, ministry officials have been educating users and dealers

about the fake medicines by showing them the names of banned drugs, but only recently

have people started to realize the danger of the counterfeit products.

Lang Ly, General Director of Medical Supply, said fake medicines will no longer have

a strong presence in the market when users become aware of the dangers they pose.

Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Office, said 300 out of the

700 consultative clinics in the city, and 10 out of 30 polyclinics, are operating

without licenses.

He said that in 2003, the MoH found that 35 kinds of counterfeit medicine were sold

in pharmacies, and health officials had explained to the dealers and the users not

to sell or buy those medicines by showing them the labels.

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