What do I need to know before I travel?
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Counterfeit Medicines


Substandard and falsified (SF) medical products are a growing problem that occurs throughout the world. A culture of self-diagnosis and self-prescribing has led to the emergence of thousands of unregulated websites providing access to SF products.

SFs can:

  • cause harm and fail to treat / prevent the diseases for which they are intended
  • be toxic and even fatal
  • be produced in unhygienic conditions
  • contain no active ingredient or the wrong dosage
  • lead to loss of confidence in medicines and healthcare providers
  • be found in street markets, via unregulated websites, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals
  • be difficult to detect and appear genuine

A wide range of counterfeit medicines are available and include:

  • antimalarials (one of the most commonly reported counterfeit medicines)
  • antibiotics
  • cholesterol lowering medicines
  • blood pressure medicines
  • cancer treatments
  • analgesics
  • antihistamines
  • steroids
  • HIV and tuberculosis treatment
  • vaccines

What should arouse suspicion?

  • the medicine is very cheap compared to the normal cost
  • the medicine has a strange taste, odour or is a strange colour
  • the medicine is crumbly or breaks apart easily
  • poor quality packaging or packages with spelling errors

SF Products and the Internet

Be cautious of:

  • emails and advertising that lacks authenticity e.g. no logo, no physical address or landline number
  • prescription only medication being offered without a prescription
  • suspiciously low prices

Advice for travellers

Where possible ensure you receive all necessary vaccinations prior to travel, especially if there is any cause for concern about the legitimacy of vaccine products at destination. In 2013 and 2019 the Philippines Department of Health reported sales of counterfeit rabies vaccines. Travellers are strongly advised that in the event of an emergency situation where they need to source vaccines overseas, they ensure they attend a reputable clinic  in an  effort to avoid vaccine failure and death from the disease.

Where possible travellers should  take sufficient medicine to cover the duration of the trip. Be aware that in countries where malaria is a serious risk, medicines used for the prevention and treatment of the disease are often subject to counterfeiting.

In the event that further medicines need to be obtained abroad (e.g. if a trip is extended, medicines are lost or stolen or the planned itinerary is changed) travellers can take steps to reduce the risk from counterfeit medicines:

  • carry a copy of any prescription medicines that you are taking
  • this should include both the proprietary and brand name of the medicine and also the manufacturer. This applies also to any prescribed antimalarial medicines that you are taking. Buy medicines only from a reputable pharmacy and obtain a receipt
  • do not obtain medicines from an open market
  • ask the pharmacist about the active ingredient in the medicine; check that it is the same as your own medicine
  • inspect the package closely, poor quality printing, spelling or labelling may suggest counterfeiting

Further information

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