Two Chinese search engines, market leader Baidu and state-run Jike.com, have recently taken steps to help Internet users identify counterfeit drugs and fraudulent online pharmacies. Jike.com announced in late February that it created a platform, bgt.jike.com, that allows Chinese citizens to lodge complaints about inferior pharmaceutical products and services. Baidu followed that news by saying it is now using the China State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) database to provide accurate information about medications and online drug sellers.
Jike.com’s initiative, in collaboration with the SFDA, the software company Qihoo 360 and Chinese newspaper Health Times, is believed to be an effort to “target current search leader Baidu.com, which has over 70 percent market share,” wrote ZDNet, which also pointed out that Baidu has been faulted for the proliferation of counterfeit drug ads before. (After Jike.com’s announcement, Baidu said it plans to launch a similar platform for pharmaceutical complaints.) Baidu also announced that it has gained access to the SFDA database to offer three new search functions: for certified drugs, the instruction manuals for OTC and Chinese traditional medicine, and certified Internet pharmacies. When users search for pharmacies on Baidu, a symbol is displayed next to websites that are registered with the SFDA. (See image below.)
It’s worth noting that in some cases, Internet pharmacies can be registered with the SFDA but be unapproved by LegitScript’s standards. For example, 360kad.com, which is easily found by searching for pharmacies on Baidu, is certified by the SFDA but allows customers to order prescription drugs without requiring a prescription. Another website our analysts reviewed sells only over-the-counter products online but is unapproved because it also posts promotions for prescription drugs such as Viagra and Cialis, which violates Chinese law.
The search companies’ foray into the healthcare product arena is one strike against the growing problem of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals being sold over the Internet, but they face an uphill battle. According to SFDA officials, China’s fake pharmacy industry has evolved into a well-oiled machine of production, Internet promotion and distribution, with the help of medical professionals and new technology. The SFDA seized more than $2.6 billion worth of counterfeit medication last year. Check this space soon for a blog detailing drug and Internet pharmacy policies in China as part of our series on regulations in countries outside the US.