Counterfeits and counterfeiters can kill and may already be responsible for the loss of countless human lives worldwide. So far, though, the human toll of the damaging impact of counterfeiting has been lost in the din of words over how fake products are hurting the electronics industry supply chain and damaging the reputation of companies involved. That’s where we all need to refocus the attention of all stakeholders because a lot more than just money is at stake; lives are being needlessly lost.
The impact of counterfeiting, whether of pharmaceutical drugs, medical equipment and related products – the economic segment most targeted by counterfeiters, according to Robin Gray, chief operating officer of the Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA) – or electronics, is felt most in third world nations where the enforcement, monitoring and penalty regimes for trafficking in fake, substandard and misrepresented components aren’t as stringent as in Western nations. In these countries, the cost of counterfeiting is counted in lives lost and not just in dollars and cents.
I have, sadly, being personally impacted by the scourge of counterfeiting. My 78 years old father lives in Nigeria and on a recent visit to the United States I dragged him to a doctor for what I assumed would be a regular physical check-up. His blood pressure, despite taking three separate medications bought in Nigeria, was dangerously high at 189/92. The doctor was stunned. “There’s no way this medication could be working,” he said. The medication was changed and the prescription filled at a local pharmacy in the U.S.
Within a few days his blood pressure had dropped to a much better level of about 139/77. We suspected the medications he was taking before were fake; probably just chalk. I loaded him with several months’ supply of his medication but at well over $300 (after a hefty manufacturer’s discount) for a 90-day supply, you can imagine this is another drug counterfeiters would like to get their hands on. Unwitting customers in an impoverished nation would be more easily enticed to buy “generic” versions of this branded medication at a much lower price. The dangers of course, would also be immense. (See graphics below from the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration.)
My father was lucky. My aunt, a diabetic, wasn’t as fortunate. She died about one year ago after falling into a coma. We couldn’t exactly determine what happened but previous experience point to the possible failure of her blood sugar level monitoring applications. Earlier, a bunch of test strips she bought in Nigeria turned out to be fake; the readings were false. We caught this error at first and sent her authentic test strips from the U.S. When she replaced these with local ones months later, the disaster struck, resulting in her untimely death.
There are worse effects of counterfeiting happening all over the globe. I’ll use Nigeria as another example. The country has in recent years experienced more than three major air disasters that claimed numerous lives and which has given Nigeria the nasty image of being prone to aviation crashes. Before you start pointing fingers at pilot errors, though, consider this: military and aviation equipment are being counterfeited at an alarming rate as even the United States Department of Defense has found out and as I pointed out in a recent report. (See: Military, Aviation Markets More Vulnerable to Counterfeiting.)
Stella Oduah, Nigeria’s aviation minister, reportedly said the country’s latest air crash that happened earlier this month resulting in the death of 16 people was an “act of God.” I’m not going to quibble with the minister here but I am leaning more towards the likelihood that counterfeit components might have been used in the aircraft involved.
The ECIA’s Gray warned during a recent presentation at the ES-Live event in Boston that it is possible fake components are going into the global aviation supply chain and playing a role in such disasters. We would be more certain of the causes of these disasters, of course, if countries like Nigeria have the capability and the know-how to thoroughly investigate them but that’s asking too much of these nations.
Counterfeits can kill. Not directly themselves but selling and distributing fake, copied or substandard products can jeopardize not just properties and businesses but also lives. It’s time to get serious about it.
Bolaji Ojo is editor-in-chief and publisher of Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.