[THE GOVERNMENT] HAS NOT TAKEN ANY CLEAR STRATEGY TO CRACK DOWN....
HALF of all pharmacies in Cambodia are operating illegally, putting customers increasingly at risk, health advocates have told the Post.
Only 1,000 of the country's roughly 2,000 pharmacies have been formally registered, according to Yim Yann, project coordinator for drug quality at the NGO Global Fund R6.
Yann said it is crucial to shine a light on "illegitimate pharmacies" because many often sell fake drugs - a serious problem highlighted by the 1999 deaths of at least 30 Cambodians who took counterfeit anti-malarial drugs, according to the World Health Organisation.
"[The government] has not taken any clear strategy to crack down on this problem effectively," Yim Yann said.
Sun Sary, director of the Hospital Department at the Ministry of Health, acknowledged there were many pharmacies that lack licences but added that the ministry is urging more pharmacies to register.
Health advocates, however, want the government to take tougher measures.
"I think the government should close down those pharmacies that are found to be run illegally," said Ny Chakriya, head of the investigation department at the human rights group Adhoc.
He claimed the government is reluctant to shut down unlicensed pharmacies because they still bring in tax income.
Banteay Meanchey vendor Um Vannak, 42, has had a mixed experience with unlicensed pharmacies. "I once had typhoid, but just a simple illness only. I went to a pharmacy and I was injected with [a drug], which cured me effectively," she said. Six months later, however, the illness returned - and that time, medicine from the unlicensed pharmacy had little effect.
Even so, Um Vannak said people in remote areas will continue buying medicine at their nearest pharmacy, licensed or not, because they are convenient.
"I never see a cross sign or a medicine glass case at places where people like buying medicine when they are sick," Um Vannak said.
In 2001, the government-led Council for the Development of Cambodia counted 1,876 private pharmacies in the country, of which 80 percent were operating illegally.
The World Health Organisation considers counterfeit medicine to be a "global public health crisis".