CHU LAP YIN
A customer inspects a container of medicine at a Phnom Penh pharmacy.
Fake and expired pharmaceuticals are pouring into rural areas, as their circulation declines in the capital due to urban dwellers’ increased knowledge of counterfeit medicines, health officials warned.
“There are about 500 pharmacies and numerous medicine booths in Phnom Penh. We have recently inspected those pharmacies and found only 3-4 fake medical items, which had been smuggled from Thailand and Vietnam,” Dr Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Department of Health, told the Post.
“I estimate that currently only 2-3 percent of medicines sold in the city are fake or expired,” Veng Thai said.
“Since we started pharmacy inspections in the city, imitation and out-of-date drugs have forayed into rural towns and areas,” he said.
“Rural people have little knowledge about medicines, so fake drug smugglers are selling their products in rural areas rather than in the city,” he said. “Such pharmaceuticals are sometimes made from flour. While some are of half quality, others just have the brand name of registered drugs and would have no effect on treating disease.”
Dr Yim Yann, president of Pharmacists Association of Cambodia, agreed that rural dwellers are the main victims of fake and out-of-date pharmaceuticals.
“Rural people are poor, have no knowledge of medicines, so they go for the cheaper product,” he told the Post.
“There are currently about 6,000 medicines that have been registered with the Ministry of Health (MoH).” Yann said. “We inspected medicines in pharmacies and found that between 60 and 80 percent are registered medicines at the MoH.”
Lyaun Hay, managing director of Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing (PPM), estimated that about ten percent of all medicines circulating in Cambodia are fake, and that PPM loses almost half a million dollars a year due to the presence of fake drugs.
“PPM’s revenue is around $4 million a year. Fake drugs take about ten percent of the market share, so we lose about ten percent of our revenue,” he said.
“I agreed that the MoH is actively working to combat fake pharmaceuticals, however, I think that the circulation of fake medicines is still rife, especially in rural areas,” he said.
Dr Nuth Sokhom, Minister of Health, told the Post on July 15 that fake and expired drugs are still a threat to people’s health, especially in rural areas.
“Last year, we found about 35 items of fake medicines – Paracetamol, and antibiotics such as Ampicillin and Amoxicillin, and malaria drugs, that were mainly smuggled from Thailand and Vietnam,” he said.
“The real medicines have a ‘vignette’ displaying the name of the company importing the medicine and below that the letters CAM with a code number,” he said.
Nuth Sokhom said the MoH is constantly educating pharmacies not to sell counterfeited drugs, but fake medicines can still be found for sale.
“I have little medical knowledge and I have sold medicines for 20 years,” an unlicensed medicine seller at the Takmao market, in Kandal province’s Takmao district, who identified herself as Sitha, told the Post.
Sitha can sell pharmaceuticals without a license because her father is a member of the staff at the district’s Chey Chumnas hospital.
“I sell medicines to customers and retailers and tell them what the suppliers tell me about the medicines,” she said.
“I don’t know whether the drug is counterfeited or out-of-date.
“Rural retailers come and buy medicines at my shop to re-sell in their villages,” she added.
“I have no plans to register my pharmacy,” she said. “Pharmacies in Cambodia have been mushrooming and it is getting harder to compete. If my pharmacy was licensed I wouldn’t be able to sell cosmetics and groceries as well as medicines.”