Pirated Viagra comes from India and China: South Africa

February 16th, 2008 - 12:30 pm ICT by admin  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Feb 16 (IANS) An official in the South African health ministry has alleged that the largest amount of fake and illegally manufactured copies of the sex tablet Viagra that is smuggled into the country originates in India. “We go to collect packages at post offices and destroy them every week, and they come mainly from India. We even know exactly how the envelopes look,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Afrikaans daily Beeld here.

The remarks followed a conference earlier in the week organised by the world’s largest pharmaceutical company Pfizer to get regulatory authorities and customs officials in ten countries in southern Africa to draw up plans to counter the piracy of Viagra.

Viagra was developed by Pfizer and there is still no legal generic equivalent for the pills used by men with erection problems. Pfizer said the illegal copies also came from China, Pakistan and Russia, with ingredients that posed great risk to users.

“Pirated Viagra worth about 1.7 million rands (about $23,000) was recently found at the Lebombo border post between South Africa and Mozambique,” said Matthew Moodley, director of legal services at Pfizer South Africa.

“They did not contain our active ingredients, but were contaminated with other substances,” he said.

Samples of confiscated pills were so close to the original that only experts could distinguish between them, leading to unscrupulous dealers at sex shops and online sites exploiting the preference by buyers to remain as private as possible.

But while the countries of origin of illegal Viagra had been identified, Pfizer’s financial director in Africa and the Middle East, Menassie Taddese, said the company did not know the extent of pirate distribution in South Africa’s market was of about two million tablets, 700,000 of which were genuine Viagra.

One of the options that make up the rest of the market is Indiagra, an Ayurvedic equivalent to Viagra. Indiagra is sold here by Maltiherb, a company that specialises in a range of Ayurvedic medicines imported from India and repackaged here before being sold to dealers.

Subhash Agarwal, managing director of Maltiherb, did not feel threatened by competitor or pirate products and said there was a huge demand for Indiagra.

“The attraction to Indiagra is both the use of natural ingredients and the cost. Our pack of five tablets sells for the same price as one Viagra tablet and even less than pirated products,” Agarwal told IANS.

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