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Patients will soon be able to check whether the pill or syrup they've bought is genuine with just an SMS or a WhatsApp message, as pharmaceutical companies are expected to print unique codes on their best-selling products in the next three months.

The move is supposed to help weed out counterfeits of the top 300 drug brands from the Indian market, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.

The Drugs Technical Advisory Board approved a proposal for a “trace and track ..mechanism during a meeting held on May 16, the official said. At the same time, this initiative is on a voluntary basis, according to DTAB.

According to the proposal, a 14-digit number will be printed on the labels of the top 300 pharmaceutical brands and these numbers will be unique to each strip and bottle sold in the market, the official explained. The labels will also come printed with a mobile number provided by the company marketing the brand, the official added.

Patients purchasing these medicines can message this 14-digit number to the contact number provided and will get details like the name and address of the manufacturer, the batch number, manufacturing and expiry date, the official said.“This is to give confidence among the public about the genuineness and quality of the product,” the official said. “This will also help inspectors to track and catch counterfeit products moving in the market.”

Counterfeit medicines are fake medicines that fail to treat prevent disease. The official added that several companies and major associations had been in discussion with the government over this initiative and have agreed to it.The 300 brands for this track-and-trace mechanism will be selected based on the market size, the official said, adding that work was underway to collate the list of these products.

Pharmaceutical companies are still awaiting clarity on how this mechanism will work and who will be responsible for creating the portal that allots the numbers.“If this improves access to genuine medicines and reduces counterfeit products, we will consent. But the responsibility of developing the portal for this and the allotment of unique serial numbers should be with the ministry of health,” said DG Shah, secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, a lobby group for large domestic phrma companies.

“For 300 brands, if you count the number of products, it runs into billions of products. Let’s see how the logistics are designed,” he said.An estimated one in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified, according to research released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2017.

A nationwide survey conducted in 2014-16 showed that around 3% medicines marketed in India were substandard, while around 0.023% were either spurious or counterfeit.There have been instances of the Indian drug regulator flagging medicines made by large pharma companies for failing quality tests, only for the companies to argue that the products in question were counterfeited. For instance, a batch of Sun Pharma’s popular medicine brands ‘Pantocid’ and ‘Pantocid DSR’ were flagged for failing quality tests in September, but the company had told ET that the samples of these brands tested by the regulator were counterfeits.

Last modified on Thursday, 24 May 2018

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