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,
"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
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.