Counterfeits, Parallel Trade Disrupt MENA Pharma

The pharmaceutical industry represents one of the strongest growth markets in the Middle East and North Africa over the next decade. Total pharmaceutical sales are expected to grow at a CAGR of around 15% in the next five years, with combined expenditure in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco alone reaching US$35.8 billion by 2016, according to research highlighted here. A broad move towards privatization of the healthcare industry across the region is expected to support these trends.

However, significant challenges remain in the form of counterfeits and the illegal reimportation (parallel trade)of medicines. Estimates by the World Health Organization suggest that as much as 35% of the entire pharmaceutical market in the Middle East may be illicit in some form (read more here and here). The sophistication of drug smuggling reaches all levels of the industry from common antibiotics and painkillers to medicines for the treatment of schizophrenia and cancer. The entire region sees counterfeits of medicines from all major manufacturers, including GlaxoSmithKlineNovartisSanofi-AventisBristol-Myers SquibbRoche and Pfizer.

Counterfeit and unregulated pharmaceuticals are an especially significant challenge for the healthcare industry in Iraq. Unsecured borders and the collapse of the existing regulatory regime have meant such counterfeits are regularly smuggled into the country and are pervasive in the domestic supply. Dunia Frontier Consultants in November 2011 completed a major survey of 397 pharmacies across all 18 of Iraq’s governorates. The survey uncovered evidence of significant parallel trade between Iraqi Kurdistan and neighboring Turkey, but also the widespread availability of generics and potential counterfeits from India, China, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Customs and medical officials throughout the region are attempting to tackle this challenge head-on (read more here and here) in an attempt to secure global supply chains and ensure public safety. However, as the size of overall market continues to grow, so too will the challenge of ensuring the integrity of the marketplace.