On 4 and 5 March 2021, 25 officials from several government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Pharmacy Department, Central Medical Store, Medicines Regulatory Authority, College of Medicine, National Intelligence Service, the Malawi Police Services and 7 representatives of the pharmaceutical private sector, participated in a online training which focused on the definition, identification and detection of falsified and substandard medicines. The use of such medicines constitutes a serious threat and endangers the health of the population, unless these products are detected in time and taken out of circulation along the pharmaceutical supply chain and from pharmacies and hospitals.
The training was opened by Mr. Abels Mkandawire, Acting Director of Europe Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who is the CBRN/MEDISAFE National Focal Point in Malawi. On his opening remarks, Mr. Mkandawire, on behalf of the Government of Malawi and the CBRN Initiative welcomed the participants from different sectors. He mentioned it was an honour to welcome the project after a long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He expressed his satisfaction that the project was making progress in spite of the pandemic. The NFP remarked that this project will greatly enhance the capacity of national stakeholders to address sub-standard and falsified medicines, especially in the context of COVID-19. He gave the example aired by the BBC and an INTERPOL report about the seizures of falsified COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa the previous day and the arrest of 3 Chinese nationals and a Zambian. The CBRN/MEDISAFE National Focal Point ended by thanking the European Commission, the CBRN Initiative and MEDISAFE.
The webinar used the following definitions, as approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO): falsified medicines are products for which there is a deliberate or fraudulent misrepresentation of their identity, composition or source. Substandard medicines are products that fail to meet their quality standards or specifications.
The two-day meeting was organised by a regional EU project (MEDISAFE), which is implemented by Expertise France and works with key partners in Malawi on countering substandard and falsified medicines. A national action plan for the pharmaceutical sector was developed to address the issue.
Organised crime groups have exploited a new niche and lucrative market for the illicit trade in fake medicines including COVID-19 related products. Utmost caution will therefore be required and MEDISAFE is making its contribution to support countries to face this growing threat and protect populations.
The following key points were identified in the pharmaceutical national action plan for follow-up by the country:
– To raise the awareness of both government officials and the public on the threat of sub-standard and falsified medicines;
– To build the capacity of health workers and law enforcement sector (e.g. border police, customs) on the identification and control of Sub-standard and Falsifies Medicines;
– To promote inter-agency cooperation including the establishment of a National Information Sharing Platform with all health, legal and law enforcement sectors regarding Sub-standard and Falsified Medicines; – To work with the pharmaceutical industry and law enforcement agencies, to ensure the viability and security of the supply chain for pharmaceuticals.