COUNTERING COUNTERFEITS

Panama 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: ILLEGAL DRUGS

Panama's strategic location makes it a hub for both legal and illicit products, and the Ministry of Health is stepping up efforts to keep out illegal pharmaceuticals.

The privileged geographic location of Panama and its canal generate great benefits, but also bring some issues. Such is the case of contraband medicines, since the country has become a point of transit and distribution of these illegal products that are sold in the market at lower prices than in pharmacies and other authorized sales centers.

Although it is difficult to obtain precise figures, based on estimates made by the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide it is estimated that counterfeit or adulterated products represent between 5 and 8% of the USD550 billion moved per year from the sale of medicines.

It is estimated that the total confiscations of drugs in all of 2017 exceeded the previous annual record of 72 tons confiscated in 2016. The rebound is due to better coordination between local police agencies and friendly countries. However, Panama's president, Juan Carlos Varela, previously complained that the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the rebel group of the FARC has led to an increase in drug trafficking and violence in Panama.

So far in 2018, the authorities have reported the seizure of 62,000 altered pills without registration. Despite the raids by the authorities, citizens ask for a strengthening of surveillance measures against fake or unregistered medicines.

The authority responsible for managing and controlling the access and regulation of medicines in Panama is the National Directorate of Pharmacy and Drugs, which is part of the Ministry of Health. Its mission is clear and consists of ensuring that the analysis, monitoring, and quality control of medicines and other products for human health comply with standards established by current national and international health regulations.