More than 13 percent of medicines sold in markets in Phnom Penh and five outlying provinces are either fake or ineffective, a Ministry of Health study has found.
Imported drugs not registered with the ministry were found to be either counterfeit or substandard 21 percent of the time, the study also found.
The WHO-funded survey was the first by the government and was distributed at a workshop for ministry staff Thursday. A larger study done last year by the Management of Sciences for Health and the Pharmacists Association of Cambodia found 9.6 percent of medicines in markets here were fake.
The study tested 24 types of drugs, including amoxicilin, ciprofloxacin, diazepam, tetracycline and paracetamol. Samples were taken from Phsar Olympic and markets in Kompong Cham, Kompong Chhnang, Takeo, Kompong Speu and Takeo provinces. They were sent for testing to Thailand and to the government’s National Quality Control Laboratory.
Other samples were sent to drug regulatory agencies in the drug’s country of origin for testing.
The report points to the large number of unregulated pharmacies that operate throughout the country as one factor behind the high number of counterfeit and ineffective medicines. In October 2000, there were 892 licensed pharmacies nationwide and an estimated 2,800 illegal, unlicensed pharmacies, according to the ministry.
“Importers, retailers and consumers can’t be sure they can avoid counterfeit drugs. The poor and uneducated are so scared,” Ministry of Health Secretary of State Ung Phyrun said Thursday at the workshop.
During the 1960s, no drugs other than those normally bought over-the-counter could be bought without a doctor’s prescription from licensed pharmacies, the report said. There was no drug registration system—as there is today—but smuggled drugs were rarely found in markets because authorities regularly cracked down on unlicensed pharmacies.
Ministry officials tried several times to close more than 600 unregistered pharmacies in Phnom Penh in 1997 and 1998. The second crackdown failed as city officials defended the pharmacies, saying they sympathized with pharmacists who would lose their livelihood.
In 1996, the National Assembly passed a law authorizing the ministry to inspect and license pharmacies. But health officials say most of the city’s pharmacies predate the law, making regulation difficult.