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IRIN Examines Controversy Over Definition Of Counterfeit Medicines

IRIN examines controversy over what should be defined as counterfeit drugs, writing, “There is no dispute over the dangers that fake medicines pose,” but “international agreement over how to deal with fake medicines has been elusive, with discussions getting bogged down over exactly what kinds of drugs should be targeted.” The news service notes, “One of the biggest hurdles to stemming the global tide of counterfeit medicines is disagreement over the term itself, which drug companies are accused of hijacking for commercial rather than public health reasons.” While the WHO “defines a counterfeit drug as ‘a medicine, which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity and/or source,’ … pharmaceutical companies consider even safe, efficacious drugs ‘counterfeit’ when their expensively developed and patented formulas are copied without their permission, or even when their own drugs, licensed and packaged for sale in one country, are diverted, repackaged and sold elsewhere at a higher price.”

“Despite efforts to harmonize copyright and intellectual property laws by countries like the U.S. and Japan, which are home to many pharmaceutical companies, these laws vary greatly around the world,” IRIN writes, adding, “The result has been bitter opposition to attempts to reach an international agreement on combating counterfeit medicines.” The news service highlights a meeting set to take place next month at WHO, which “will try to nail down more firmly what international control measures should cover and, just as importantly, what they should not.” According to IRIN, “[t]he Meeting of the Member State Mechanism on Substandard/spurious/falsified/falsely labeled/counterfeit medical products will focus not on drafting a treaty — such an ambition has been abandoned for the time being — but rather on developing a ‘program of work’ to curb the sale of such products” (10/2).