Drug manufacturers should disregard profit and instil security seals on products to help patients identify fakes--this is the message from head of Nigeria's Onitsha Patent and Proprietary Medicine Dealers Union, ahead of a meeting on the topic.
His comments, while well-intentioned, are misguided on two counts.
Firstly, security tags are no guarantee against counterfeiting. Rather, they simply get counterfeited themselves.
In Kenya counterfeiters have even invented fake security tags. This story was reported just a few weeks ago. It's for this reason that companies are turning to serialisation systems which are far more difficult to fake.
Secondly, he ignores a primary advantage in the fight against fake medicines--far from being a problem of self-interest, everyone's (apart from the counterfeiters') self interest points in the same direction. Manufacturers want to protect their profits by protecting their brands against fakers. Patients want to be confident about buying genuine products from those high quality manufacturers. Working against counterfeiters suits them both, while fake medicines harm profits and health. There are none of the "negative externalities" that critics of markets love to allege.
Even if a product is identified as fake, further problems can then be encountered. In Nigeria, according to the head of the regulator NAFDAC, cases against culprits are thwarted due to the "very, very sluggish" legal system. Some cases last over 10 years, he said recently.
Security seals, without serialisation, probably won't work. And even if they do, it's little use if legal action cannot be quickly and efficiently taken against the culprits in court.