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Traceability system a must for drugs: GS1 chief

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on June 21, 2021

Barcoding tracks availability and helps prevent counterfeiting: Swaminathan

Barcoding medicines sold in the country offers immense potential in tracking the availability as well as in fighting counterfeiting, said S Swaminathan, CEO of GS1 India, the standards organisation in the country.

In most developed countries, drug traceability is possible for the medicines sold, but in India only those meant for exports are barcoded, mainly because it has been made mandatory by the buyer or the governments of those countries to where the medicines are exported, said Swaminathan.

GS1 India is an affiliate of GS1, the global standards organisation headquartered in Brussels. Set up by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, together with various chambers of commerce and industry such as CII, FICCI, Assocham, as well as export-promotion entities such as APEDA, FIEO and Spices Board, GS1 India has been in operation since 1996.

Though India came out with a draft regulation which insisted on barcoding of drugs sold in the domestic market, the regulation did not come through. The Health Ministry is very keen to get it done, but it faced challenges because of the Covid pandemic during the last one-and-a-half years.

Major challenge

The major challenge in the country is that unlike in the developed countries medicines are sold as loose strips. Putting a barcode on the aluminium foil strips is difficult, unless there is a white patch, where the barcode can be printed. In other countries medicines are sold in box packs and, hence, putting a barcode is not difficult.

“We have suggested to the government to have a staggered approach. To begin with, the top 100 to 200 companies, which are already doing it for exports, can be made to do this for the domestic market as well,” said Swaminathan.

“We should have implemented it 4-5 years ago. We are already late,” said the GS1 CEO.

“With e-commerce and online pharmacies coming in in a big way, consumers will find it difficult to validate the quality. The major problem in pharma is the recall of the drugs. Currently, there is no mechanism to track the drugs,” he said.

To begin with, Swaminathan said it can be made mandatory for live-saving and scheduled drugs and subsequently to other drugs.

Pandemic times

He said this will be very useful during pandemic times. “It will help the government to know where the life-saving drugs are lying and can be deployed in places where the requirement is,” he said.

GS1 has also come out with a white paper on barcoding of Covid-19 vaccines. This, Swaminathan remarked, will be made easy for tracking vaccines from the point of manufacturing to the point of administration, covering everything else in between.

CoWIN does provide information linking the Aadhaar number of the beneficiary to the vaccine and its batch.

“The purpose of the portal, however, is to fix appointments and issuance of the certificate. It does not capture the supply-chain information, covering the journey of the vaccine,” said Swaminathan.

“The traceability system, on the other hand, captures the supply-chain journey and enables validation of vaccines at the point of inoculation,” he added.

With the private sector providing vaccination in a big way, such a move will certainly provide a way to effectively track vaccines administered in the country.

Published on June 21, 2021

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