Social media can be a potent weapon against counterfeit medicines and help build awareness among consumers

Social media can be a potent weapon against counterfeit medicines and help build awareness among consumers

IP Key South-East Asia wants to put a stop to people consuming counterfeit medicines in the campaign #YourHealthisPriceless. The EU-funded project from IP Key South-East Asia (SEA) believes that everyone's health is priceless. So today, we are launching an online campaign to raise awareness of the harms that counterfeit pharmaceutical and healthcare products can cause. The campaign is also a call for the public to share their experiences with counterfeit medicines on social media.

Research shows that counterfeit medicine cannot cure illnesses and can cause more harm to people’s health. Without sufficient awareness, consumption of these substances can lead to unexpected symptoms, permanent disabilities, and even loss of life.

"As an EU-funded project, IP Key SEA will highlight the European Union's effort in this regard through the campaign, says Tiago Guerreiro, IP Key SEA Project Leader. “Within the campaign's scope, we aim to promote IPR awareness so as consumers only purchase from legitimate sources so as to prevent negative results. In the long run, we will continue to facilitate the exchange of best practices and share the EU experience with the South-East Asian IP and enforcement authorities so as to combat counterfeit medicines. In addition, we will promote cooperation between IPR owners and online platforms in taking swift action against sellers of counterfeit medicines who usually take advantage of having their products sold online and transported easily by mail or delivery services.”

“#YourHealthIsPriceless campaign emphasises the EU mission through the IP Key SEA project by raising awareness about IP rights on social media. We also believe that the stories shared will help showcase the current situation and encourage customers to be fully aware of every product’s authenticity and only buy from legitimate sources.”

Counterfeit medicines do not comply with intellectual property law. In the vast majority of cases (90%), they can be harmful to a patient’s health according to a study recently released by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The products involved include antibiotics, painkillers, and medicines for diabetes, the central nervous system, heart disease, cancer, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, among others. While others can be found in categories such as lifestyle drugs and medicines for an aesthetical purpose, ranging from beauty injections to skincare, although some of these products are classified as food supplements or cosmetics in some countries.

Insecurity in public health

Consumers can be tricked by the logo and packaging of counterfeit products designed to imitate authentic ones, promotions and lower prices offered by unauthorised sellers, or the popularity of certain products among peers. They may become vulnerable to the adverse effects that medicines from illegitimate sources bring to their health and the possible failure to treat or prevent diseases.

Although a global problem, the proliferation of counterfeit medicines in South-East Asia is a particularly serious concern. A 2019 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Transnational Organised Crime in South-East Asia identifies a number of SEA countries, including Thailand, where counterfeit pharmaceutical and healthcare products originate from. The country has also been identified as a significant transit point for such products, and a country usually linked to counterfeiting or diversion of medicines alongside the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam during 2013-2017.

“Undeniably, there are counterfeit products all over the market. It is not very easy to distinguish authentic products from the counterfeit ones at times, but there are factors to check, such as the overall quality of the product, price, and product effectiveness,” shares Tiago Guerreiro. “One of the practical solutions is to check with the brand owner as they can identify reliable distributors and assist us in reviewing the product’s authenticity.”

Insecurity in law and global trade

Global trade in counterfeit pharmaceutical products accounts for EUR 11.87 billion, representing more than 3.3% of total global trade in the pharmaceutical sector, according to the 2016 OECD study. It remains to be a challenge for IP and government officials to detect fake products and enforce IPR protection measures, hence the need for local consumers to be careful when being approached by unauthorised sellers.

“The EU is supporting Thailand and ASEAN regional approaches and initiatives to combat substandard and falsified medicines,” states Laurent Laurdais, Counsellor at the EU Delegation to Thailand. “Harmonised pan-ASEAN safety and control measures will allow for easier identification of counterfeit medicines, and improving verification and controls at borders, as well as a system enabling patients to identify legally operating online pharmacies, all of these measures would certainly help limit the sales of these dangerous products.”

Purchase genuine products from verified and legitimate distributors and join the campaign by sharing your experiences with counterfeit pharmaceutical products alongside a description, photo, or video, include the hashtag #YourHealthIsPriceless and mention @IPKey_EU Twitter account or IP Key Facebook page.

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