GENEVA - Criminals are using the internet to sell increasing quantities of counterfeit medicines, including fake versions of bird flu drug Tamiflu, a senior UN health expert said this week.
Vitamin and health supplements, so-called "lifestyle medications" like erectile dysfunction drugs, and steroids bought over the internet were especially likely to be false.
Antibiotics, anti-malarials and pain killers were also susceptible to fraud because of the huge demand, while Tamiflu, made by Swiss firm Roche, had also entered the market amid rising avian flu fears.
"Yes, there have been cases reported in counterfeit Tamiflu," said Howard Zucker, the World Health Organisation's assistant director-general for health technology and pharmaceuticals.
The WHO has estimated as many as 10 per cent of drugs on the world market are mislabelled or fake.
Speaking to reporters after a high-level meeting in Rome, where pharmaceutical industry and health experts agreed to set up a task force to fight the counterfeit drug trade, Zucker said better oversight of online drug sales was essential.
Harvey Bale, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, said fake medicines remain more prevalent in developing countries than in places like Western Europe.
Still, Bale stressed patients in the rich world were increasingly vulnerable to counterfeit drugs distributed online. He said the new task force would look into that growing sector.