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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 19:12 GMT
India to toughen fake drugs law
Fake drugs thrive in India due to inspection problems
India's cabinet says it wants the death penalty for people who make fake drugs, which have been blamed for a number of patient fatalities.

Consumer groups say the drugs carry legitimate brand names but have incorrect ingredients.

Parliament will be asked to amend an existing drugs law following the recommendations of an experts' panel.

The death penalty applies to a number of crimes in India but is rarely carried out.

Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj revealed the move after a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

WHO campaign

The experts' panel had urged the government to increase the punishment for manufacturing and selling counterfeit drugs, from life imprisonment to the death penalty.

Sushma Swaraj
Ms Swaraj says fake drugs are "mass murder for profit"

Opposition MPs and the pharmaceutical industry are expected to back the cabinet decision.

Last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a campaign against fake drugs.

It said the worldwide use of the drugs had increased because they were so easy to make and sell cheaply,

WHO estimated up to 25% of medicines consumed in developing nations were counterfeit or substandard.

It said the drugs could be harmful and even deadly.

India's pharmaceutical industry has an annual turnover of 200 billion rupees ($4.2 billion) but problems with inspection have allowed counterfeiters to prosper.

Fake medicines rob legitimate companies of around $1 billion a year.

Ms Swaraj called the fake drugs industry "mass murder purely for profit", the Press Trust of India reported.

Many patients are thought to die because their fake pills simply fail to work.

This makes it impossible to determine the number of deaths accurately.

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