UAE has stringent medical products' importation measures in place to stop the entry of counterfeit medicine.
Residents can rest assured that there are very minimal fake medicines in pharmacies or hospitals across the country, officials from the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap) have said.
However, the challenge remains over false promises of fake medicines over the Internet.
In an interview with Khaleej Times, officials said that the UAE has stringent medical products' importation measures in place to stop entry of counterfeit medicine into the country. This is the first line of defence as importation is only limited to licensed, registered and regularly inspected medical stores.
These registered facilities will only be allowed to import medical products through Mohap import system where they acquire necessary approvals that include technical auditing for each import request.
Medical product registration has a vital role in limiting counterfeiting. The registration process is put in place to ensure that the products are tracked from the initial steps of manufacturing all the way through to the patient's administration in terms of quality, safety and efficacy.
"We apply fast-track registration for medicines in order to make genuine medical products readily available and accessible to all UAE citizens and residents. Lists of non-registered and required medical products are continuously generated and revised within Mohap and sent to different related establishments (local manufacturers, agents etc) in order to incorporate the market's need in their manufacturing or importing upcoming business objectives. This collaborative initiative between Mohap and the private sector also contributes in limiting counterfeiting by encouraging registration," said Dr Fatima Murad Rahim, deputy director of the drug department at the ministry.
Regulations are also in place with strategic partners such as the customs, Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which enables law enforcement and therefore the prevention of counterfeiting.
"General trading companies, hospitals, pharmacies or any non-licensed establishments are not allowed to import medicines, medical devices, precursor chemicals or any other related products. This is ensured by custom authorities who work closely with the ministry," Dr Fatima continued.
"The Internet is considered an international challenge when it comes to counterfeiting. Therefore Mohap works closely with the TRA to watch over websites that market and sell non-registered and non-authenticated medical products and blocks them accordingly," Dr Laila Mohammed Kazim, head of pharmacovigilance section, said.
"The section plays an important role in monitoring all medical products in the country. It is constantly functioning in the surveillance and detection of any fake medical products. Nevertheless the section is vigilant not only of the local market, but also of counterfeiting happening in the neighbouring countries and worldwide," Dr Laila said.
She also added that the section issues circulars, alerts and related communications to healthcare facilities, pharmaceutical establishments and the public to make them aware of any counterfeiting occurring in the world. "Circulars issued include contaminated products or medicines with undeclared, non-active ingredients or banned substances. Counterfeit drugs are illegal and may therefore be very harmful to the public," Dr Laila explained.
"Other challenges of counterfeiting is the presence of medicinal substances in herbal or food products. Some illegal practices of counterfeiting include addition of prescription-only medicines in food and herbal products like honey, teas and other products with different claims," she said.
Dr Fatima explained steps the department is undertaking to limit counterfeiting. "Samples of all batches of each shipment entering the UAE are collected and sent to the laboratory for analysis to ensure the quality and ethnicity of the products."
"The ministry also has enrolled nine TruScan machines, a device that detects counterfeit products in seconds, to the inspection protocol. The devices, also located at ports across the country, will help inspectors and officials instantly detect and investigate any counterfeiting entrance attempts."
"This machine is considered as an analyser with a simple point-and-shoot technique for rapid verification of a broad range of compounds. The quick analysis therefore indicates ingredients and signals out any unexpected compounds/ingredients," Dr Laila said.
"If medical products are entering the country at a personal level, they are usually referred to the ministry via the customs. All quantities will be assessed for any dangerous, controlled or banned products. Inspectors are well-trained to make technical decisions on-spot in such cases," said Dr Fatima.
Dr Laila further added: "The products with travellers should also indicate personal use and should not be of trading quantities. Mohap prevents any bulk import at a personal level and deals with narcotics and controlled medicines very seriously."