The circulation of counterfeit and substandard drugs is stifling efforts to combat infectious diseases in the Kingdom, government officials and health experts said yesterday.
Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said in a statement released at the World Health Day conference to Combat Drug Resistance in Phnom Penh, that the misuse of antimicrobial medicines such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials is a leading cause of drug resistance.
“This includes a failure to keep substandard products off the market, to ensure that antimicrobials are dispensed only by a licensed prescriber, and to stop over-the-counter sales of individual pills,” she said.
Antimicrobial resistance – or drug resistance – can cause bacteria, viruses and some parasites to withstand attacks from certain medicines.
Dr Pieter van Maaren, country representative for the WHO, said at the conference that the organisation needed to work with law enforcement agencies to combat the sale of counterfeit medicine.
“Patients who get treated with counterfeit or substandard drugs don’t know that they are treated with substandard drugs,” he said. “Those who willingly and knowingly sell substandard and counterfeit drugs [must be] punished by the law.”
Heng Bun Keat, director of the food and drug department at the Ministry of Health, said that only 0.5 percent of drugs sold in Cambodia are counterfeit drugs.
“In late 2009, there were 1,402 unlicenced pharmacies in Cambodia,” he said.
“There are 38 illegal shops [now] left throughout the country and I hope that in the next month or two we will completely eliminate these illegal sales.”
Thir Kruy, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said that buyers and patients are not aware that illegal drugs have different effects to legal drugs.
A study initiated by the Ministry of Health in 2006 and released last October by the National Health Product Quality Control Centre and researchers in Japan, estimated that an average 2.9 percent of drugs sold through licenced outlets in Cambodia were counterfeit.
WHO representatives yesterday announced a six-point plan for combating drug resistance, which encourages countries to establish a national plan to strengthen surveillance and laboratory capacity, to increase access to quality medicines and promote proper use of medicines, to prevent and control infection and to invest in research and development.