Counterfeit medicines continue to be a serious issue in Malaysia. According to the Emerging Markets Health Network, counterfeit medicines constitute approximately 5% of total medicines in Malaysia. It is quite a high number as compared to the more industrialized countries; the incidence of counterfeit medicines is estimated to be less than 1% of total market, whereas in emerging markets the incidence rate is estimated to range from 10 to 30%.
Among the various channels of the counterfeit medicines, online pharmacies are one of the main contributors to the problem as 95.6% of online pharmacies are operating illegally, over 90% of online pharmacies supply prescription-only medicines without prescription, and 67% of men who purchase prescription-required erectile dysfunction (ED) medicines without a prescription do so via the internet .
In June 2016, Pfizer Malaysia in partnership with Ministry of Health, Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society & Malaysian Urological Association launched a public awareness campaign – Spot the Fake to educate the public on the dangers of counterfeit medicines.
The Spot the Fake campaign is a 360 campaign with both on-ground and on-line engagements to drive awareness so that the public seeks the right channels for genuine medicines. The website also aims at educating them on the dangers of counterfeit medicines and how to “Spot the Fake” by using the various strategies outlined in the site.
Counterfeit medicines are a serious public health threat, since they can contain harmful ingredients such as talc, lactose, sucrose chalk, printer ink, commercial grade paint and even drywall. High levels of toxic solvents and impurities which are residuals of the manufacturing process are also found in those spurious drugs. It is because most of the manufacturing facilities are operating under the radar of regulatory bodies. The result of using counterfeits can be serious, not only damaging victims’ health, but also at times leading to fatalities.