The battle against COVID-19 currently has two front lines: eradicating the virus and eradicating misinformation around the virus. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), internet searches for updated information about the coronavirus rose from 50 percent to 70 percent in just one month (April-May), and although this may seem good news at first glance, it should be taken into account that not all information on the internet is true or accurate.
The origin of the virus, the causes, the treatment, the spread mechanism and the cure are some of the most searched topics since the virus unleashed in late 2019. Because of the fast pace of spreading false information, there is a threat for humankind that is becoming relevant: fake coronavirus medications.
During the pandemic, there has been a high demand for treatments and medications, but there are people who have taken advantage of this situation by supplying demand with counterfeit medicines.
Why medicines are counterfeited?
The answer is simple: gain is quite large, detection risk is low, prosecution is rare, and penalties are weak. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the trade in counterfeit medicines collects more than 30 billion dollars in low- and middle-income countries. An example of this, is Operation Pangea XIII carried out by Interpol in March 2020, where 34,000 counterfeit facemasks and 4.4 million units of counterfeit medicines, worth around 14 million dollars, were seized. Additionally, Interpol found 2,000 web pages selling products that claimed curing coronavirus.
What is the impact of counterfeit medicines on patients?
At best, a fake medication is ineffective, at worst it can harm and even kill a patient. Some effects that counterfeit medicines can cause are:
– Adverse effects (such as poisoning) when there are incorrect active ingredients.
– Not curing or preventing future diseases, which increases mortality, morbidity and the prevalence of diseases.
– Contributing to antimicrobial resistance and medicine resistant infections.
– Loss of confidence in healthcare professionals, health programs, and healthcare systems.
How the purchase of a fake medicine can be avoided?
The most important thing is always going to legitimate and trustworthy sources. Following lockdown and confinement measures, increasingly more people are opting for online shopping and there is an increased risk of finding pages that sell counterfeit medicines. In order to prevent falling into this, it is necessary purchasing medicines from authorized sellers holding a certificate of authenticity granted by each country’s national health entity. The lists of physical and online establishments must be published by these national organizations.
On the other hand, Interpol suggests only purchasing medicines that have been prescribed by a healthcare professional. Purchases should not be made from websites that offer prescriptions based on questionnaires. It should be recalled that to date there is still no WHO-approved cure or treatment to combat COVID-19.
How can a fake product be recognized?
Counterfeit medicines often come in high-quality packaging, almost identical to the original, which is why Interpol suggests comparing:
– If it has less or more components than the usual medicine
– If it has other properties or side effects
– If it has a different size, shape, taste or color
– If the label is incorrect, is not labeled or has grammatical errors
– If there is no expiration date or no conservation indications
– Compare the price of products purchased with products sold by known distributors, if the medicine is much cheaper, it is likely to be false.
What products around COVID-19 have been counterfeited?
Fight the Fakes campaign, whose mission is to find fake medicines around the world, has found counterfeits of chloroquine, a medicine used to treat coronavirus, but not approved by the WHO. In addition, the campaign alerts on counterfeits in disposable surgical masks (such as N95), hand sanitizers, antivirals, antimalarial medicines, vaccines and detection kits for COVID-19.
What to do if I purchase a counterfeit medicine?
It is not enough to just throw the medicine into the trash, it is necessary reporting the pharmacy (or website) that sold it, the doctor who prescribed it, and the national health and medicine regulatory agencies. Likewise, if the purchase of a medicine has not been made, but there is a suspicion of its counterfeit, it should be reported to the police authorities and the national health authorities.
Times of crisis and uncertainty are ideal settings for criminals selling counterfeit medicines. Although there is no treatment or vaccine yet to kill off coronavirus, health and scientific staff are working hard to procure it, and once found, the whole world will know.
Desinformación en tiempos de pandemia
Entender la infodemia y la desinformación en la lucha contra la COVID-19
Fight the Fakes official statement to COVID-19
Tratamiento del coronavirus | El alarmante negocio de medicamentos falsos que crece por la pandemia de covid-19
World Anti-Counterfeiting Day: Joining forces in the fight against falsified medicines