In the ongoing battle against the sale of fake and substandard drugs, the Ministry of Health has set an Oct 1 deadline for medication importers, wholesalers and producers to register their products with the government.
The registration means that all medication sold in pharmacies must bear a stamp certifying that Ministry of Health inspectors have checked and approved of the drugs, said Chroeng Sokhan, vice director of the ministry’s department of drugs and food.
“Every medicine has to have a sticker on the package so people will know that this is a product approved by the Ministry of Health,” Chroeng Sokhan said. “Now we cannot say that all the drugs are safe,” he said.
Chroeng Sokhan said that ministry figures reveal that there are currently an estimated 6,000 drug brands stocked in pharmacies and clinics across the country, but that only 4,000 of them are currently registered with the Ministry of Health.
The system of drug registration started in Cambodia in 1994, but sham or substandard drugs have continued to pour through Cambodia’s porous borders, according to health officials.
Anthony Vautier, country coordinator for Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres, said the deadline will likely be a boon for public health in Cambodia.
“Our position is that any implementation of registration should reduce the fake drugs in the market,” Vautier said on Tuesday. “But we will have to see how it works.”
Counterfeit drugs have been a problem in Cambodia for years. In 1999, fake antimalarial drugs were responsible for the deaths of at least 30 people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ministry of Health reports say that fake or substandard drugs are primarily a rural problem, as there is a common belief among Cambodians in the provinces that drugs sold through licensed pharmacies are significantly more expensive than those offered by small, unlicensed outlets.
Chroeng Sokhan acknowledged that it is possible that unscrupulous drug companies could forge registration stickers to put on their fake medications. “We will see,” he said.