GENEVA: The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced plans to develop an integrated campaign, including communications, technological, regulatory, and legal components, to stop the worldwide spread of counterfeit medicines.
Part of WHO's new International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) mission, said Dr. Howard Zucker, WHO assistant director-general for health technology and pharmaceuticals, will be developing communications tailored to address problems with counterfeit medicines specific to individual countries or regions.
While the exact footprint of the informational campaign has yet to be determined, Zucker said it will likely entail a mix of informational print materials, PSAs, and advertisements to educate three main audiences: pharmacists, healthcare workers, and the general public.
"We are trying to figure out the strategy of public relations messaging, and then figure out how to tackle different parts of the world," Zucker said. "Besides warning people about counterfeit [medicines], the other key issue is not to panic people into not wanting to take medicines."
Some communications outreach, including the use of PSAs, has already begun in Indonesia and Mali to educate people about the dangers of counterfeits and dissuade them from buying medicines on the black market.
Counterfeit medicines, which either fail to cure ailments or are actively harmful, are estimated to account for more than 30% of medicines in some areas of Latin America, southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, though the type of counterfeit medicines being sold typically depends on what diseases are most prevalent in an area, Zucker said. In wealthier countries, an estimated 50% of medicines sold online are counterfeit.
IMPACT, which held its first official meeting on November 16, includes representatives from a range of organizations, including Interpol, the World Trade Organization, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical and Manufacturers' Associations, the World Bank, and Pharmaciens sans Frontiers.
A smaller group within IMPACT will support the communications efforts by collecting and sharing data on counterfeiting trends.