Feature story |

The Counterfeit Confusion

Phony Definition of 'Counterfeit Medicines' Costs Lives

From luxury handbags, to cigarettes and DVDs, the mushrooming trade in counterfeit goods – deliberately faked products – is a global concern.  Many initiatives are being undertaken to crack down on this criminal trade and enforce intellectual property rights.  Medicines too have become the target of this crackdown.

All well and good you might think; fake medicines that don’t do what they say on the packet are potentially very dangerous.

Fatal Confusion

But this is a fatal confusion and it’s our patients who are losing out. What many of these initiatives have in common is that they are defining a ‘counterfeit ‘ medicine in such a way that legitimately produced, life-saving generic medicines could be confused with and end up being thrown out along with deliberately criminal and dangerous fake medicines.

This could lead to an end to the flow of safe, legitimate and life-saving generic medicines so essential to our work

The European Commission is closely involved in several activities that promote this dangerous confusion and threaten to wipe out legitimate generic medicines.

» In more detail: Counterfeit? Substandard? Generic? What's in a name?

EC Customs Detains Shipment of Generic Drugs

The EC has been attacking generic medicines right within its own borders. European Customs authorities have seized shipments of legitimate generic drugs which were in transit through the European Union to patients in developing countries on the grounds that they might be ‘counterfeit’ drugs through violation of European patent law.

However, it turned out that the medicines were not counterfeit products nor in violation of patent laws, but were legitimately produced by mainly Indian companies and were being imported by Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria and other developing countries at prices much lower than the branded drugs.

The seizures meant that patients in those countries were left without their medicines and health staff had to scramble to manage the interruption of treatment.

MSF stores many of its medicines in warehouses inside the European Union and this threat to supplies could endanger our own drug distribution to our projects.

The EC says it is reviewing this situation but no action has followed these words.

We won’t wait any longer. The EC must drop the damaging regulation now.