What do coronavirus and counterfeit medicines have in common?

Both epidemics are an urgent health concern.

At first glance, not much. Coronavirus is far from fake and scientists are still racing to find a genuine remedy. But in January 2020, epidemics such as coronavirus, and the epidemic of counterfeit medicines, were both listed among the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top 10 urgent health challenges for the next decade.


Urgent health challenge

With sales ranging from US$163 billion to US$217 billion per year, according to industry estimates, counterfeit pharmaceuticals are the most lucrative sector of the global trade in illegally copied goods. According to the WHO, substandard and falsified medical products cause harm to patients and fail to treat the diseases for which they were intended.

  • They affect every region of the world.
  • They affect all medicines, vaccines and in vitro diagnostics.
  • Anti-malarials and antibiotics are amongst the most commonly reported substandard and falsified medical products.
  • Both generic and innovator medicines can be falsified, ranging from very expensive products for cancer to very inexpensive products for treatment of pain.
  • They can be found in illegal street markets, via unregulated websites and in pharmacies, clinics and hospitals.


Consumers unaware of risks

A report released by the US Department for Homeland Security on 24 January 2020, reveals that the counterfeit market has expanded to include all types of therapeutic medicines, including insulin, cancer medications, and cardiovascular drugs. It has also spread into over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup and weight loss drugs and many consumers in the US appear to be largely unaware of the potential dangers of purchasing counterfeit drugs from internet pharmacies.


Yet a 2017 survey by strategy consulting business PwC Strategy& found that pharmaceutical executives were reluctant to spend more to fight fakes and risked overlooking opportunities to capitalise on rapidly evolving anti-counterfeiting technologies.


La grippe

While the world is gripped by the latest coronavirus news and many countries around the world take new precautions, the more hidden problem of counterfeit medicines is also on the agenda this week at PharmaPack, Paris, an annual event that will highlight packaging solutions for counterfeit medicines. Many companies, including SICPA, will showcase the latest trends in anti-counterfeiting solutions and serialisation.


A solution for the coronavirus is still in development but pharma companies looking to solve fake medicines and supply chain problems already have a range of proven solutions within easy reach.