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Director-General Margaret Chan urges creation of a roadmap at meeting of the World Health Organization

Buenos Aires, 19 November 2012 (PAHO/WHO) - At a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting  in Buenos Aires today, officials and experts from 76 countries launched a Member State mechanism to combat the counterfeiting of medications, a global public health problem that demands a joint response.

During the official opening of the first meeting of the Member State Mechanism on Substandard, Spurious, Falsely-labeled, Falsified, or Counterfeit Medical Products, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan advised the countries to take advantage of the three-day gathering to produce a roadmap and an appropriate work plan for the Member States. The meeting was conducted jointly with the Argentine Ministry of Health.

According to Dr. Chan, access to health services must be tied to access to safe and affordable products. "Public health depends on you," said the WHO Director-General in remarks made before some 200 delegates in a packed conference room at the Hotel Panamericano in Buenos Aires. She also pointed out Argentina's work in medicines and other public health areas, such as hepatitis A vaccination.

The purpose of the meeting, which will continue through Wednesday, is to set international standards to control counterfeit or spurious drugs to protect public health and guarantee the availability of quality, safe, efficacious, and legitimate medical products. 

"Drug counterfeiting causes death and disease, regardless of gender or age. It is an international public health problem," said Argentina's Minister of Health, Juan Manzur, who also urged that opportunities to falsify medical products be eliminated, suggesting that it is imperative for the countries to have a shared mechanism to respond to this issue. 

"We have high hopes for the work of the Member States during this meeting and expect that they will make a concerted effort to reach the necessary agreements and create specific proposals to respond to this issue," added the Minister. In this respect, he pointed to Argentina's drug traceability system, which records and monitors the distribution of these products in the country. 

According PAHO/WHO Representative in Argentina, Pier Paolo Balladelli, "This new international coordinating and negotiating mechanism launched today in Argentina consists of representatives whose mandate is to serve the people of their countries—and given the international role of the mechanism, the global population—above private interests."

"The impact of decisions made through this mechanism will be seen in the prevention of death and disease and the protection of quality and equity in access to medicines by all," said Balladelli, who also thanked meeting organizers on behalf of PAHO Director Mirta Roses. Balladelli also noted that drug counterfeiting is a global issue that can have a devastating impact on the health of individuals, families, and the population at large.

This mechanism was established last May by the 65th World Health Assembly to ensure international collaboration from a public health perspective on strategies to fight drug counterfeiting, excluding trade and intellectual property considerations.

The Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Umunna Humphrey Orjiako, who was elected Chair of the meeting, commented, "This is a very important issue for the international community, especially those of us from developing countries, which are home to most of the victims of illegal medicines." However, developed nations "are also beginning to experience problems with adulterated medications," he asserted.

"In a world as interconnected as ours is today, we face significant challenges to ensuring equitable access to quality public health products. Medicines are an enormously important public health resource for the health of individuals and populations," said Balladelli. The Member States of WHO will take advantage of the discussions during the meeting to share experiences, identify needs and obstacles, and formulate policy recommendations to combat drug counterfeiting.

The manufacture, distribution, and sale of substandard, spurious, falsely-labeled, falsified, or counterfeit (SSFFC) medical products is a problem that affects access to a global public health good and endangers the health of people in every region and Member State. The impact on the health and lives of millions of people from the lack of curative effect or the direct harm caused by falsified medical products necessitates the adoption of this new international health mechanism to permit the standardization of control procedures worldwide.

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