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How to Take Action against Illegal's Medicines

Policymakers need to stop seeing animal health and medicine issues as second-tier. Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, Executive Director of HealthforAnimals explains this is key to overcoming the growing issue of illegal medicines. 

Were you shocked by the size of the illegal medicines problem globally? 

Absolutely. We knew it was a major issue but when this report finally quantified it, the result was staggering.  

The illegal medicines market is valued at $2 billion. That is huge and highlights the significance of the issue.  It’s shocking that the market has been able to get to this size and to know that it’s growing is very concerning. Money is being earned at the expense of animals and, oftentimes, unwitting animal owners.

Did you realise how widespread illegal medicines are and that they are even used by veterinary professionals? 

Again, the possible size of this market — $2 billion – was a real shock. That’s what makes this report so ground-breaking. 

And to know that veterinarians or farmers may be unwittingly prescribing  and using these medicines is alarming. They may purchase a product believing it’s authentic, when in fact it’s a different or completely ineffective medicine. 

For a smallholder farmer in a developing region, this can be devastating. They lose what they invested in the counterfeit medicine and their animal, which is often just one of a few, may succumb to a disease.

It’s why identifying sources of illegal medicines is essential. Counterfeiters are savvy– they’ve managed to build a $2bn market. The entire animal health sector, including companies, policymakers and regulators – need to step up and tackle the issue.

Do you think there is a lot of work to be done to tackle this problem, or is industry already working together to find a solution? 

Unfortunately, not enough is being done right now. But tackling this will take a long time, the report estimates it will take years to look a getting it under control. 

But we can start now with some key first steps. For example, simply making animal professionals and pet owners aware that illegal products are out there is critical. They need to look out for changes in packaging, modifications to the actual medicines and also regularly check the traceability methods and authentication procedures for healthcare products. 

On a macro-level, we urge governments and IGOs to raise the priority of animal medicines. They can often be seen as of ‘lesser importance’ for enforcement officials. This needs to change. Illegal medicines don’t just harm animals, they damage communities that rely on them. For example, a farmer who invests in a poultry vaccination that turns out to be fake could lose his money and the animal that his family relies on for nutrition.

In developing countries, accessibility and affordability of medicines can be a driver behind illegal use. Is there more that could be done to ensure quality, authentic medicines are accessible?

Absolutely. Regulatory convergence would be a major step which would aid accessibility to smaller markets. If we could streamline an approval process so that all products coming to market are approved by one agency, this would the process enable companies to introduce products to smaller markets where it’s often difficult to recoup an investment in the approval process. 

Illegal medicines themselves also drive up the cost of authentic products since companies must invest in anti-counterfeiting measures like tamper-resistant packaging. And when an illegal medicine fails, farmers must spend their hard-earned money again on an authentic product. Stamping out the illegal market will ultimately reduce the investment required for effective, authentic medicines.

How is HealthforAnimals and the wider industry going to use this report to educate on the size and scope of this problem? 

We need to get this in front of key decision-makers in governments and enforcement agencies. If they can see the scope of this challenge and the impact it has on farmers – especially vulnerable ones in areas of Africa and South Asia – we are confident more action could be taken.