The drug control authorities in Vietnam are being aided in the fight against counterfeit drugs by a mobile laboratory system developed by the German Pharma Health Fund (GPHF).
According to the World Health Organisation, around 8 per cent of all medicines on the market in Vietnam are fake, posing a serious public health concern.
The Vietnamese government has limited scope to tackle the problem, in part because the sale of drugs in Vietnam is in most cases not through regulated pharmacies, but private dealers, which handle around 11,000 drugs with a market value of $450 million (€347m) each year. Also contributing to the problem are the country's long, often unmonitored borders with countries where drug counterfeiting is common, namely China, Laos and Cambodia.
Now, 50 employees of the drug control authority, police and customs have been trained in the use of GPHF's Minilab, a mobile, compact laboratory that allows quick detection of drugs that are counterfeit or substandard in quality.
The system is already being implemented at border crossings across the company, and its mobile nature means that it can be used by request - on a case-by-case basis - to monitor wholesale channels and in around 8,000 outlets across the country. Seaports and custom checkpoints will be included in the programme.
The Minilab has been designed so that all the devices and resources required for drug testing fit into two transportable units each the size of a standard suitcase and with a total weight of about 40 kg. It is equipped with a full set of reference substances for the 30 active substances selected and contains all necessary laboratory equipment such as test tubes, mixing beakers, pipettes, DC plates and chambers and battery-powered UV lamps of various preset wavelengths.
The requirement for counterfeit drug monitoring in Vietnam was made abundantly clear in 2003, when a bootleg version of the gastric ulcer drug ranitidine was identified in sales outlets.
This case served as a prime example of the increasing sophistication of the counterfeiters - the product was a flawless copy of a very sophisticated tropics-compatible packaging, an all aluminium blister, which is still manufactured by only a handful of companies around the world.
Dr Richard Jahnke, the GPHF project manager who oversaw th Vietnamese training programme, said the combination of training and use of the Minilab "are the guarantee that counterfeiters will have a tough time in Vietnam from now on."