To the Editor:
"The Problem of Fake and Useless Drugs" (editorial, Nov. 22), highlighting the danger of fake drugs, unfairly enlists a specific incident involving Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in a call for a global crackdown on fraudulent medicines.
Our team in Kenya treating people living with H.I.V./AIDS was not "duped into buying fake antiretroviral drugs." Rather, in September 2011, we detected problems with generic medicines purchased through a distributor certified by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Kenya. While laboratory tests confirmed the drugs’ medicinal properties, the drugs had been repackaged with falsified expiration dates.
Upon discovery of the tampered dates, we immediately alerted the Kenyan health authorities, quarantined the drugs in question, traced and notified all affected patients, secured adequate replacement drugs and provided medical follow-up.
Any strategy designed to prevent the distribution of fake drugs must ensure that access to much-needed lifesaving medicines is not curtailed. While the date tampering could have happened with patented drugs, it is generics that often wrongly fall under the too broad definition of "counterfeit."
Most of our more than 200,000 patients treated for H.I.V./AIDS in more than 20 countries are alive today thanks to quality-assured generic medications. Millions more in the developing world living with AIDS or other diseases rely on generics.
While it is important to improve systems that protect patients from harmful fake medicines - both patented and generic - the problem in many countries is not the need for more laws, but the need for improved enforcement of already existing laws and more resources for drug regulatory authorities.
Medical Coordinator, Médecins Sans
Frontières Access Campaign
Geneva, Nov. 27, 2012