How UAE took action against bogus Covid vaccinations, medicines sold on social media

Avoid buying medicines or supplements online, Health Ministry official warns


Dhanusha Gokulan

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Dr Amin Hussain Alameeri, the assistant undersecretary of the health regulation sector at the UAE Ministry of Health and Protection. – Supplied photo
Dr Amin Hussain Alameeri, the assistant undersecretary of the health regulation sector at the UAE Ministry of Health and Protection. – Supplied photo

Published: Sun 21 Nov 2021, 6:12 PM

Last updated: Sun 21 Nov 2021, 6:15 PM

The UAE ramped up its efforts to eliminate fake medicines and medical products from reaching consumers amid the pandemic, a top government official said Sunday.

UAE took stringent measures against fraudulent companies that sold falsified Covid-19 vaccinations and medications over the internet and social media platforms, said Dr Amin Hussain Alameeri, the assistant undersecretary of the health regulation sector at the UAE Ministry of Health and Protection.

"According to data provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 90 per cent of the global online pharmaceuticals sell substandard medical products or SF products. Globally, at least 100,000 to 1 million people die every year due to SF products," said Alameeri. Moreover, 50 per cent of purchases of illicit medicines are done online.

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He explained, "During the pandemic situation, many companies tried to sell falsified vaccines and Covid-19 medication online, including the UAE."

According to reports published by the US Food and Drug Administration and Interpol in Europe, many shipments containing fake medications were seized. At least 200 illicit online traders of counterfeit medicines were also closed down globally, said Alameeri.

The official appealed to UAE nationals and residents to avoid the online purchase of medicines and supplements. "This is an illicit trade. Avoid buying medicines through social media. Instead, concentrate on government and licensed private pharmacies that are spread all over our beautiful country," he added.

The official spoke to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the fourth international conference on Falsified and Substandard Medical Products at the Dubai Exhibition Centre, Expo 2020, on November 21.

Meanwhile, Rogério Gaspar, the director of regulation and prequalification department World Health Organisation, said collaborative efforts between countries are imperative to combat SF drugs' menace and ensure those in poorer nations don't buy them. In some parts of Africa, more than 30 per cent of the medicines sold are substandard or falsified products.

UAE is home to 91 international pharma logistical hubs

The UAE is a vital link in the trade of medicines and medical products to at least 42 neighbouring countries. "At least 91 pharmaceutical companies have their regional offices and logistical hubs located in Dubai. With the presence of these companies, medicines and imported and re-exported to these 42 countries," explained Dr Alameeri.

UAE plays a crucial role in ensuring only the highest quality products are imported and exported to these 42 nations and other countries in need. "Amid the pandemic, 2,062 tonnes of medical supplies including PCR testing kits and 2110 ventilators were shipped to countries in need during the pandemic. A total of 135 countries benefitted from UAE aid," said Alameeri.

"We have been trying to fight against falsified medicines entering UAE's markets for a long time now. We have many technologies, and with support from international agencies such as WHO and other agencies, we protect the healthcare and medical welfare of communities in these 42 countries," he added.

Strategic measures to combat counterfeit drugs

From March 3 to 10, 2020, Interpol and participating government authorities seized 4.4 million units of illicit pharmaceuticals worldwide.

Citing an Interpol report, Alameeri said antibiotics, erectile dysfunction pills, anti-cancer and diabetes medication, and hypnotic and sedative agents are among the most commonly found counterfeit medical products on the market.

The UAE follows a five-prong strategic preventive measure, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, in its bid to combat the entry of falsified into the market, said Dr Alameeri. First, it educates the communities on the harms of consuming such products through medical conferences and mass media.

Second, MoHAP fosters collaboration with stakeholders in drug control communities such as the Dubai Health Authority, Department of Health Abu Dhabi, the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Customs Authority, and the Public Prosecution. The third and fourth prongs include the strengthening of quality control and surveillance and monitoring capacities.

"Moreover, each pack of medicine is tracked from manufacturer to the patient using an application called Tatmeen," said Alameeri. Tatmeen is a highly advanced track and trace platform for pharmaceuticals and medical products initiated by MoHAP.

What is the impact of consuming falsified drugs?

> Lost income due to prolonged illness or death

> Lost productivity costs to patients and households when seeking additional medical care

> Lack of social mobility and increased poverty

> Economic loss for patients, their families, health systems and manufacturers

> Waste of human effort and financial outlay across the health system

> Increased burden for health care professionals, national medicine regulatory authorities, law enforcement and criminal justice systems

> Loss of confidence in the healthcare system

> Increased mortality and morbidity due to dangerous contaminants

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