As fears over swine flu peaked in the summer, search engine queries for "Tamiflu" soared by 1,400 per cent according to a report from software security firm Sophos. The correlation is not hugely surprising, nor is the news that fake Tamiflu, thriving on this sudden internet-based interest, is being produced and transported from Russia.
In June 2008 the Russian Federation Council held a meeting entitled "The role of the state in the protection of the Russian market from counterfeit medicine." A more honest meeting would have evaluated the role of the state in flooding the market with counterfeits in the first place.
Corruption and a complete disregard for the rule of law have been at the root of Russia's counterfeiting and 'grey market' pharmaceutical trades (for more info, see Making a Killing, page 21).
A company named Bryntsalov A produce up to 10 per cent of pharmaceuticals in Russia, yet this year they were found guilty of counterfeiting over 50 brands of medicine. Remarkably, as reported on the excellent SecurePharmaChain blog, the punishment was little more than a "slap on the wrist", with token fines dished out of no more than $1,500. By pure coincidence, two leading figures in the company are siblings Vladimir Bryntsalov and Tatyana Bryntsalova, the former being an ex-candidate for President (yes, of Russia). Both are said to have extremely strong political links.
It is therefore little wonder that only one victim company, Pfizer, had begun taking legal action according to the article (at IPN we've stressed the importance of civil law in deterring counterfeiters - in many countries, the rule of law is so weak, and political corruption so great that civil proceedings are simply not viable). In 2006 Pfizer surveyed the fakes market in Russia, finding an unusually high standard of counterfeit drug production (which is not, of course, to say that the drugs are good). All indicators point towards a very professional class of counterfeiters, in league with the political elite.
For these reasons, one must be extremely cynical when leading political figures (including Medvedev and Putin) pledge to "protect" their people from counterfeit drugs. Rather than looking for political saviours we should be looking for political culprits, and ensuring they're accountable for their crimes.