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14 November 2007 - Media release

Fight against counterfeit medical products the focus of conference in Indonesia.

ASEAN, China, WHO and INTERPOL join forces for first time.

JAKARTA, Indonesia – The first conference co-organized by ASEAN, Indonesian authorities, the World Health Organization and INTERPOL to tackle pharmaceutical counterfeiting in Southeast Asia and China opened today with a call for greater global co-operation to fight this growing crime, which experts say endangers public health and feeds organized crime.

'The health sector alone cannot successfully combat counterfeiters; this combat requires effective collaboration among all those concerned,' said Dr Valerio Reggi, a senior official in WHO’s Department of Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals whose office serves as the secretariat for the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT).

'Our shared mission is to stop the manufacture and trade of counterfeit medical products and contribute to make medicines of assured quality accessible to all those who need them. It is possible – if we act together.'

Drug counterfeiting has grown in ASEAN countries and China, which are emerging as major centres for the production, distribution and sale of fake medicines. WHO estimates that as many as 30 per cent of medicines sold in some areas of Southeast Asia are counterfeit.

The ASEAN-China Conference on Combating Counterfeit Medical Products brings together for the first time representatives from drug regulatory authorities, police, customs, pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers, and health professionals from the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus China.

The conference is being held under the auspices of IMPACT, an initiative spearheaded by WHO which comprises 193 WHO member states, 10 international organizations, including INTERPOL, associations representing pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers, health professionals and other non-governmental organizations.

WHO and INTERPOL are strengthening their co-operation to fight pharmaceutical crime in the region by working to enhance co-ordination among stakeholders, involve ASEAN member states and China in international initiatives, identify actions to be taken at the regional level, and develop a mechanism for reporting incidents to INTERPOL and WHO.

Aline Plançon, specialised officer in INTERPOL’s Intellectual Property Crime unit and co-chair of IMPACT’s enforcement sub-committee, said INTERPOL was uniquely placed to assist national efforts to dismantle the criminal networks behind pharmaceutical counterfeiting.

With the support of WHO, INTERPOL led a group of international scientific experts who produced an intelligence assessment on counterfeit anti-malarial medicines which resulted in the arrest of several transnational organized criminals in China and Myanmar, seizure of hundreds of thousands of counterfeit products and break-up of the criminal network involved, in an operation codenamed Jupiter-Southeast Asia.

'Operation Jupiter-Southeast Asia illustrated how a regional counterfeit medicine problem can be addressed by INTERPOL thanks to input from the public health sector and how it provides a model for the way forward. It also proves that if stakeholders from different disciplines pool data, expertise and resources, it is possible to target the activities of transnational organized criminals and achieve measurable success against them,' Plançon said.

The head of Indonesia’s National Agency of Drug and Food Control, Dr Husniah Rubiana Thamrin Akib, also emphasised the importance of a strong partnership between public health and law enforcement.

A joint investigation between the agency and the Indonesia National Police uncovered a warehouse filled with boxes of medicines worth more than US$2.7 million. Tests confirmed that two in three medicines were counterfeit and almost a quarter had been imported illegally.

'Pharmaceutical counterfeiting is a global menace. It threatens not just livelihoods and company profits, but also critically threatens lives as well,' Dr Akib said.