Monday, June 27, 2016

Public outcry over fake vaccines in Indonesia

Following a police investigation and discovery of a counterfeit vaccines network across Indonesia a public outcry is bringing politicians, bureaucrats and health organisations into the fray. 

The police uncovered sales in Central Java, Jakarta and Riau. 13 arrests were made, including factory operators, distributors, couriers and label makers after raids across Jakarta and surrounding areas of West Java last week.  Two further Central Java distributors arrested have apparently been operating for 10 years. Pictures of the couple's lavish lifestyle went viral on social media. Suspects are to be charged under Health and Consumer Protection Laws. The Jakarta raids netted 195 packages of hepatitis B vaccine, 221 bottles of Sanofi's Pediacel combination vaccine, 364 bottles of measles vaccine, 81 packages of polio drops, 55 snake anti-venom packs, along with sales invoices and vaccine manufacturing equipment.

Various hospitals, public health clinics and pharmacies have been involved in the investigations. Jakarta's mayor Ahok has ordered the city's Health agency to inspect public hospitals, following reports of the availability of fake vaccines in the capital's hospitals. Testing is ongoing, some fakes are believed to contain harmless liquids, but the public have been scared, because many are vaccines for children. 

The Minister of Health has tried to downplay the issue, citing that only 1% of drugs are fakes. However health and consumer groups have made statements to the press about the fact that this problem is common knowledge in the country, that Indonesia is a haven for fake medicines. Government departments have been accused of gross incompetence by political parties. The Ministry of Health's BPOM unit is taking the most flack. BioPharma the state owned drug producer has announced that its supply chain integrity is strong. 

Of course those in the anti-counterfeiting world have long known of this. See here for previous reports. The Indonesian Anti-Counterfeiting Society has spoken about it. The US government mentions pharma makes most years in its 301 report on Indonesia. The real problem is the lack of investigation and enforcement of counterfeiting, the fault of which lies with the police's failure to investigate commercial crimes, the IPO's PPNS department which has virtually ceased raids, and BPOM who tended to focus on fakes drugs in pharmacies only, not going back into the distribution chain. Pharma companies for years were unable to complain about the health Ministry's lack of action, because the same Departments are also their regulatory supervisory bodies.

The current position is that counterfeiting is a growth industry with little government attempt to stop it due to a weak legal system. Several spots in Jakarta are well known for fake medicines like Pasar Pramuka but are notoriously dangerous for investigation and enforcement. Perhaps a public outcry is needed to drive more action by the government. Fake medicines are the worse tip of the counterfeiting industry which prospers due to lax law enforcement offering no deterrent.

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