HSA Removes Over 800 Listings of Illegal Health Products from Local E-Commerce Platforms during Global Week of Intensified Surveillance

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has removed more than 800 illegal health product listings from local e-commerce and social media platforms during Operation Pangea, an Internet-based enforcement action coordinated by INTERPOL, between 23 and 30 June 2022. During this week, HSA intensified online surveillance of local e-commerce platforms to detect and disrupt the online sale of illegal health products.

2        The product listings taken down include unauthorised medicines and medical devices. Examples are unregistered anti-diabetic medicines and unauthorised blood glucose monitoring devices, such as glucose test strips, lancets and meters. These illegal health products have not been evaluated and approved by HSA. Hence, there is no assurance of their safety, efficacy and quality standards. In addition, for the medical devices associated with blood glucose monitoring, there is a risk of inaccurate blood glucose readings. This could result in incorrect insulin dosing, which is dangerous for the diabetic patient.

3        HSA also detected and removed listings for sexual enhancement products such as ‘Hickel’, ‘Candy B+ Complex’ and ‘Prime Kopi Pejuang 3 In 1’. Contrary to the claims that these products were “natural” and “with no side effects”, HSA tested the products and found that they contained tadalafil[1], a prescription medicine used to treat erectile dysfunction. Inappropriate use of tadalafil is dangerous and can increase the risk of serious adverse effects, including heart attacks, stroke, palpitations, irregular heart rate and priapism (painful and exceedingly long erections). Tadalafil can also pose serious risks to certain individuals, including those with heart-related problems. It can cause potentially life-threatening low blood pressure in those who are on heart medications, especially those containing nitrates.

4        Other listings taken down by HSA included those promoting prescription-only medicines (e.g., birth control pills, antibiotic creams), unregistered hair loss treatments, condoms, and COVID-19 related products. HSA had worked with the local e-commerce platforms to promptly take down the affected listings. The sellers were issued warnings and reminded of the regulatory requirements that they have to comply with.

5        Please refer to Annex A of the pdf version for examples of product listings that were taken down by HSA.

Collaborative efforts led to decrease in illegal listings

6        HSA has continued to heighten its monitoring activities on local e-commerce platforms, alongside the cooperation from the local e-commerce platform administrators, as well as feedback from the public. These collective efforts have reduced the number of illegal listings detected recently. From January to June 2022, HSA and platform administrators promptly removed about 2,500 illegal product listings and issued warnings to more than 900 sellers. Comparatively, in the same period last year (January to June 2021), more than 4,000 listings were detected, and 1,600 sellers were issued warnings.

7        HSA also continues to educate platform administrators on the relevant regulations and the sale restrictions of various products. In turn, the local e-commerce platforms educate the sellers on what products can or cannot be sold and impose penalties on sellers that contravene their policies.

Consumer advisory

8        Members of the public are advised:

  • Do not buy prescription medicines online. In Singapore, prescription medicines can only be supplied by a doctor or obtained from a pharmacist with a prescription, as they contain potent ingredients which could cause harm if taken without medical supervision. Even if the medicine sold online looks the same as the original, there is no guarantee that it is genuine or that it is the same medicine that was prescribed for you. As a result, your condition may go untreated and worsen.
  • Exercise caution when buying health products such as health supplements and cosmetic products online. They may be cheaper and appear to offer better value, but the lower price could be due to unsafe or inferior ingredients, poor manufacturing methods and substandard or unhygienic storage conditions. They could also be adulterated with harmful or banned ingredients.
  • Be wary of health products that promise quick and miraculous results or carry exaggerated claims like “100% safe”, “no side effects”, “quick effects” or “scientifically proven”. They can contain potent medicinal ingredients that can harm your health. Do not trust online product reviews, as these testimonials usually cannot be verified.
  • When buying health products online, buy them from reputable retailers’ websites or those with an established retail presence in Singapore.

Advisory to sellers and suppliers 

9        Sale of prescription medicines and medical devices on local e-commerce platforms is prohibited. HSA takes a serious view against those engaged in the sale and supply of unauthorised medicines and health products, as well as those that are adulterated or carry misleading claims, and will take strong enforcement action against such persons. Anyone who supplies such health products is liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to 3 years and/or fined up to $100,000.

10       Members of the public who encounter illegal, counterfeit or other suspicious health products are encouraged to contact the Enforcement Branch of HSA at Tel: 68663485 or email: hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.

Operation Pangea

11       HSA has participated in this global week of action coordinated by INTERPOL for 15 consecutive years. 94 countries took part in this year’s Operation Pangea.

20 JULY 2022

Consumer, Healthcare professional, Industry member

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