Fight The Fakes

Speak up about fake medicines.

Stories from the Front Line

Winner of UCL Fight the Fakes photo contest shares thoughts on #fakemeds

Fight The Fakes |

Winner of UCL Fight the Fakes photo contest shares thoughts on #fakemeds


Miriam Haendler, student at the UCL School of Pharmacy, was the deserved winner of the photo contest held during the UCL Fight the Fakes & Commonwealth Pharmacists Association event on the Global Impact of Substandard and Falsified Medicines in London. Participants shared a photo to best capture the global health threat caused by fake medicines. Here’s the winning photo, chosen by our jury.

Growing up in Germany, Miriam moved to London for her studies where she is currently completing her second year. She enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of her programme, gaining in-depth knowledge of chemistry, biology and pharmacology, but also getting insights into professional and legal aspects of pharmacy. In her spare time, she’s leading UCL’s women’s football team as the captain, which allows her to balance academics with sports and is a great way of socializing with other students. Fight the Fakes had the chance to talk to Miriam about her experiences with falsified and substandard medicines and how she sees the fight against fake medicines going forward.

Fight the Fakes: Miriam, when was the first time you heard about falsified and substandard medicines? What were your initial thoughts about the scope and relevance of the issue?

Miriam Haendler: I don’t remember the first time I heard about falsified medicines. I think, like most people, I realised that falsified medicines existed. However, I did not know about the scope of the problem and never felt like I was or would be affected by this. I gave this topic more thought when I went to China during my year abroad. I was unsure whether I could trust medicines that I didn’t bring from home and wondered why I felt this way and if my doubts were justified. Doing further research, I quickly realised that falsified medicines were a huge global problem and affected every part of the world, not only developing countries.

I then gained an in-depth insight into the issue as part of my university programme. We learnt about the extent and severity of this problem and what methods were in place to help tackle it. The student-initiative UCL Fight the Fakes also helped me understand this topic by sharing knowledge and raising awareness about falsified medicines.

Fight the Fakes: How do your studies relate to falsified medicines?

Miriam: In my opinion, studying Pharmacy goes hand in hand with knowing about the issues around falsified medicines. Pharmacists are the experts of medicines and the contact point between the patient and their medication. So pharmacists are in an ideal position to raise awareness about the dangers of fake meds and do all they can to fight this public health threat.

It is important to consider that no matter how much research and resources go into developing a new medicine, no matter how effective the medicine could be and no matter how well a healthcare professional counsels a patient, if the patient ends up taking falsified medicines, all these are wasted efforts. Fighting fake medicines should concern everyone, including researchers, manufacturers, healthcare professionals and the wider population.

Fight the Fakes: What do you think is most striking about falsified medicines?

Miriam: It’s probably the big discrepancy between the public perception and the actual scope of this issue. Many people are aware that falsified or substandard medicines do exist, but very few are aware of the huge amounts of counterfeits that are currently circulating and may not realise that they could be affected by this issue, too.

Fight the Fakes: What is the best way to stop fake medicines reaching patients?

Miriam: The issue needs to be tackled at several levels. Part of the issue can be solved through tracking systems and tamper-evident packaging, which could prevent falsified medicines from reaching patients. In addition, the issue should be tackled at an earlier stage by tracking and closing down the manufacturing of fake medicines, for which blockchain technology could be very helpful.

But it is almost impossible to prevent all falsified medicines from reaching the patient. Therefore, patient awareness and involvement is crucial. Some countries have already introduced verification systems that enable patients to check if the medicine is genuine through their mobile phone. Only by acting across the whole supply chain can we significantly decrease the risk of falsified medicines.

Fight the Fakes: What can patients themselves do to protect against fake medicines?

Miriam: Only purchase medicines from trusted sources. This may seem obvious, especially with prescription medicines. But it is important to remember that there are many seemingly ‘harmless’ medicines that can be purchased over-the-counter that could be falsified.

In low and middle-income countries, it may be difficult to differentiate between trustworthy pharmacies and ones that sell fake medicines. In this case, I would advise patients to use the testing and tracking methods available to them. To benefit from the measures, patients need to be informed and educated on how to use these methods adequately and know what to look out for.

In high-income countries, I would focus my attention on internet pharmacies, which are safe if the patient knows what to look for. For instance, the EU has introduced a common logo displayed on registered pharmacy sites that allow the patient to verify if the website is legit. This simple method can significantly reduce the amounts of fake medicines purchased.

Fight the Fakes: What should you do if you find out that you had taken falsified medicines as part of your treatment?

Miriam: First, probably see a healthcare professional you trust and ask for advice and tests to check if the fake medicine contained harmful substances. Secondly, think back to where the medicine was purchased and then contact the person in charge, seek advice from an external body and ask for further security measures. I would also reflect on my own behaviour and evaluate how to avoid taking falsified medicines in the future. Finally, raise awareness and share what happened to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else.

Fight the Fakes: Will you continue to fight falsified medicines?

Miriam: I will continue to fight falsified medicines, mostly through spreading knowledge and awareness. There are many ways that can help reduce the production and trade of falsified medicines but there will always be measures taken to bypass control and checking systems. So having an informed patient population will always be of primary importance. I see pharmacy students such as myself in a responsibility to help share our knowledge and raise awareness to contribute to the fight of this big global issue.

Fight the Fakes: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us and congratulations on winning the competition.

Find out more about UCL Fight the Fakes and make sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation and speak up using #fakemeds.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Back to List

.@UNODC estimates the market value of fake #antimalarials at over US$400mil in west Africa alone

60% of all spam offers medicine- its an inexpensive way for #counterfeiters to target you with #fakemeds.

30% of countries have little or no regulation to effectively combat #fakemeds

Up to 40% of the drug supply of some countries in Africa could be #fakemeds

NIH 2012 study of 7 countries in southeast Asia reveals that 36% of #antimalarials are #fakemeds

#fakemeds could be up to 15% of medicines in circulation worldwide

123 countries are impacted by #fakemeds

In 2013 US authorities published warning of fake #diabetes meds—ineffective & dangerous for patients

.@INTERPO_HQ L Operation #PangeaVI seized 9.8 million illegal & counterfeit drugs #fakemeds

In 2013 1.2 million sachets of #fakemeds were seized in Le Havre, France. The biggest seizure in the #EU

20% of all #malaria deaths worldwide can be directly associated with the use of #fakemeds

1 out of 4 counterfeit products intercepted by EU customs in 2011 were #fakemeds

Both branded and generic products are subject to counterfeiting

Of the 1mil deaths per year due to #malaria, 200,000 could be avoided if patients weren't treated with #fakemeds

Up to 30% of medicines in developing countries are #fakemeds

1 medicine in 2 purchased on internet sites that conceal their physical address is a #fakemed

36% of #anti-malarial drugs in #SoutheastAsia are #fakemeds

India may have as much as 12-25% of their supply contaminated with substandard and #fakemeds

#fakemeds are 10% to 30% of global medicine: less than 1% in some countries, +30% in parts of Africa Asia & Latin America

700,000 people die because of #fakemeds to treat #malaria & #TB each year

More than 50% of medicine sold worldwide from illegal online sources are #fakemeds

Criminals trafficking #fakemeds make profits 10x more than those trafficking illicit drugs

#Fakemeds seized during #Biyela? Antibiotics, painkillers, meds for high blood pressure & diabetes

Decades of fighting #malaria could be put at risk by #fakemeds on the market

#Fakemeds seized in Le Havre in May 2013 were hidden in sachets of tea

On internet sites that conceal their physical address 50% of the drugs are #fakemeds

In the US only 4% of online pharmacies appear to be in compliance with pharmacy laws & practice standards

2011: European Customs retained 27.5 million #fakemeds

In 2013, Operation #Biyela seized 550 million doses of illicit medicine in #Africa

Poisons found in #fakemeds include mercury, rat poison, boric acid, paint & antifreeze

#DidYouKnow? Possession of #fakemeds is illegal, not just production or sale

From antibiotics to pain relievers, more than 500 versions of fake #pharmaceutical products are circulating #fakemeds

#Fakemeds: 32% have no active ingredients, 40% have incorrect ingredients & dose, 8.5% contain dangerous contaminants

Every therapeutic class of pharmaceutical product has been the subject of #counterfeiting

#DidYouKnow? 96% of online pharmacies operate illegally

#Fakemeds can contain no active ingredients at all – a direct threat to patients that need treatment