Ministry of Health and PAHO Team Up to Combat Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals

Ministry of Health and PAHO Team Up to Combat Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has established a task force in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).  The job of the task force is to tackle the issue of substandard and counterfeit pharmaceuticals coming into the country.  Through its Drug Inspectorate Unit, the ministry rolled out the first of a three-day training session in Belize City.  The training will prepare the members of the task force in carrying out its mandate.  Robin Rojas, PAHO Regional Technical Advisor for Safe Use of Medicines and Health Technologies, said that the participants at the workshop represent key stakeholders within the country’s pharmaceutical supply chain. He added that the training will include both theoretical and practical aspects.

Edgar Robin Rojas Cortes, Technical Officer, Safe Use of Medicines PAHO: “So we are working very closely together with the Ministry of Health of Belize with a series of institutions involved in the pharmaceutical supply chain particularly to address the problem of substandard and falsified products that are circulating in the market of Belize, the Caribbean and in general the Latin American region. Essentially what we’re doing here is to gather all the pharmaceutical industry representatives, the distributors, the retailers, the hospitals but also the government authorities like the drug regulators, the customs authorities, the police, the border control people and we’re trying to create a national task force around a working plan that may be directed by the Ministry of Health in the future to prevent, detect and respond to incidents of illegal products circulating in the market. We are doing some practical exercises with all the stakeholders that I just mentioned, particularly people who are at inspection points like border control or distributors, to help them identify what an illegal product may look like or particularly what risks to public health they pose to. So not just how to identify them but how to act after you have a suspicion of a product being illegitimate.”

Dr. Jorge Polanco, Director of Hospital Services in the Ministry, explained that the task force will be charged with detecting, intercepting, and confiscating drugs that are either falsely labeled or have not met international quality assurance standards. Polanco said that consuming counterfeit or substandard medications can have serious impacts on a person’s health and well-being. 

Jorge Polanco, Director of Hospital Services, Ministry of Health and Wellness: “When you have a product that is not of that quality it leads to what we call antimicrobial resistance. What that means is that the germs, the bacteria responsible for infections really do not respond to the effect of the drug simply because that drug is of a substandard quality. That those bacteria become resistant and what that means is that later on, that line of bacteria will simply not respond to it even if it’s a proper antibiotic they won’t respond to it because they have already become resistant. On the other side we have the issue of the impact of the patient who is using those drugs, whom those drugs are prescribed. They simply would not recover at the rate that we would like to. Or maybe they would not recover at all. What we expect is to continue participating in a sub-regional electronic platform whereby we would get alerts, we could share alerts with other Caribbean nations and if let us say they would say they have detected a drug that is falsified or is that substandard they would inform us. We would do the necessary investigation, the necessary surveillance and determine if that drug is in Belize and if that is the case and we manage to match the batch number and all the characteristics that were with that drug when it was labeled as being a a counterfeit drug then those drugs would be retrieved from the public shelves.”

Polanco added that Belize is the second country in the region to work towards session up a task force for counterfeit drugs. The first was Jamaica.

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