By Ragini Ghosh and Pranit Biswas
With India currently engulfed in an all-encompassing firestorm that is the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a corresponding new wave of counterfeiters have emerged side by side, who are trying to benefit from the desperate demand for COVID medicines, by selling counterfeits of life-saving drugs, including the critical Remdesivir.
While the nation grapples with this unprecedented human tragedy and loss of life, the last few weeks have seen a rise in counterfeiting of such drugs, as evidenced by the many recent instances of law enforcement nabbing such counterfeiters. Recently on April 17, the Bengaluru police arrested a counterfeiter who was purportedly trying to sell counterfeit Remdesivir in the black market for an exorbitant sum of Rs. 14,000/- per vial. There have been a spate of such incidents which have been reported in the Indian media. It is heart wrenching to see that counterfeiters are not even sparing those in desperate, life-threatening condition during this human catastrophe to reap illegal profits. Similar incidents have also been reported in Pune, Indore, Mumbai, etc., thereby showing the alarming degree of proliferation of such unscrupulous activities. In addition to acts of counterfeiting, there have also been reports of crude attempts to even try and pass-off saline water as Remdesivir!
It is therefore becoming increasingly imperative at this time that the general public be made aware of basic due diligence measures that can be conducted to try to spot fake medicines, especially critical care drugs such as Remdesivir at a time when there appears to be NO HONOUR amongst thieves, (unlike what the title of Mr. Archer’s namesake novel would have us believe!)
FAKE vs. REAL- Remdesivir
Remdesivir in India is manufactured by several pharma companies, one of the principal of which is Hetero Healthcare Limited, a Hyderabad based pharmaceutical manufacturer, marketing the drug under the brand name COVIFOR. A senior officer of the Delhi Police recently released comparative photographs and tips about how to spot fake COVIFOR from original over Twitter. The same is being shared below for increasing the visibility of such information, which may turn out to be the difference between life and death, when battling COVID-19.
How to spot fake COVIFOR from original?
|· The term “Rx” is mentioned on the top left, as a superscript, above the name Remdesivir.
|· The counterfeit package does not have the term “Rx”.|
|· In the word “Vial”, the “V” is in uppercase script/capitalised.||· The alphabet “V” in the word “vial” on the counterfeit packaging is not capitalised.|
|· The mark COVIFOR is placed horizontally in the center, but a bit higher up from the vertical-middle.
|· The mark COVIFOR herein appears to be printed with a different alignment.|
|· The statement in the bottom of the front side of the packaging, reads as “For use in Hospital/ Institutional set up only”. Herein the first alphabet, i.e. ‘F’, is capitalized.
|· The alphabet “F” is not capitalized in the fine print statement at the bottom of the front face of the counterfeit packaging.|
|· The original packaging has the instruction “FOR INTRAVENOUS INFUSION ONLY“.
|· The counterfeit packaging does not seem to advertise this instruction.|
|· The description ‘Lyophilized Powder’ is mentioned above the mark COVIFOR.
|· This is not mentioned on the counterfeit packaging.|
|· The sentence ‘Powder for concentrate for solution for infusion‘ is printed below the mark COVIFOR.||· This statement is not there below the COVIFOR mark on the counterfeit packaging.
|· The original has a warning label on the back of the box, which is in red colour.
|· The warning on the counterfeit packaging is in black coloured font.|
|· COVIFOR/ Remdesivir was developed made by Gilead Sciences (an American Company), and a label stating “Covifor is manufactured under a licence from Gilead Sciences, Inc.” is printed at the back of the original packaging, below the abovementioned red coloured warning.||· No such statement is printed on the back- of the counterfeit packaging.
· The backside has another capitalization error – under the Indian manufacturer’s name, ‘India’ is written as ‘india’, i.e. without the alphabet ‘I’ being in uppercase.
· The state ‘Telangana’ is misspelt as ‘Telagana’.
It is hoped that the above non-exhaustive list of pointers will help the general public to exercise vigilance and be able to distinguish counterfeit pharmaceutical products from real ones. In addition, consumers must also be mindful of the below factors:
- Difference in MRP (as widely reported) for such drugs, compared to the price being offered to them – whether on the higher side or lower side;
- Quality of packaging – it may be possible that counterfeiting packaging may be of poorer quality, the shape, print-colours may be slightly different, etc.
- Check spellings of all discernible text – it is unlikely that the original packaging/vials would have typographical errors (for example, Telangana misspelt as Telagana).
Considering the scale and magnitude of this second wave of COVID-19, it is also important to be equally vigilant while buying critical PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) such as gloves or masks. In this regard, you may access our earlier articles on the said topic at https://ssrana.in/articles/proliferation-of-counterfeits-during-covid-19-lex-witness/ and https://ssrana.in/articles/rise-of-counterfeit-ppe-india-covid-19/.
The country, as a whole, must be made aware and exercise caution and vigilance against such counterfeiting activities in the midst of an unprecedented crisis as the present one that we are facing. Besides the law enforcement authorities cracking down against such counterfeiters, it is also the prerogative of brand owners and IP holders (such as vaccine makers, manufacturers, etc.) to take pro-active action against such counterfeiters, which not only would save countless lives, but also safeguard their own valuable reputation and intellectual property.