Why Eye Mo getting scarce in shops: GSK has stopped distribution of products here

Buyer beware: One batch of counterfeit Eye Mo eye drops (left) was found at H.J. Ventures in Bishan (above). Another shop in Chai Chee, Eskimo Frozen Foods, was also found selling the fakes.
Buyer beware: One batch of counterfeit Eye Mo eye drops was found at H.J. Ventures in Bishan (above). Another shop in Chai Chee, Eskimo Frozen Foods, was also found selling the fakes.PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, COURTESY OF HSA

Pharmaceutical giant stopped distribution of eye drops in 2014

Long-time users of Eye Mo are in for a disappointment - there will be no new stocks of the popular eye drops in shops here.

This is because pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which makes the eye drops, has stopped distribution of Eye Mo products here since June 2014, it confirmed with The Sunday Times last week.

The last batch of Eye Mo Regular and Eye Mo Moist products distributed in Singapore is due to expire next February.

 

GSK said it had been selling the eye drops in Singapore for over 10 years, but some long-time users said the Eye Mo brand, which has become a household name, has been around for decades. Several newspaper advertisements for Eye Mo, also written as Eye-Mo, date back to 1951.

Major supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacy chains - NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant, 7-Eleven, Watsons and Guardian - have not stocked the eye drops since late 2014.


Buyer beware: One batch of counterfeit Eye Mo eye drops (above) was found at H.J. Ventures in Bishan. Another shop in Chai Chee, Eskimo Frozen Foods, was also found selling the fakes. PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, COURTESY OF HSA

Responding to queries on why GSK halted Eye Mo production, Mr Gijs Sanders, general manager of GSK Consumer Healthcare Singapore, said: "Due to supply and demand issues, and they being unlikely to be rectified in the foreseeable future, GSK made the decision to discontinue its supply."

The Eye Mo products were produced at only one factory and "required a specialised manufacturing process", he said.

Other affected territories in the region include Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

The halt, GSK stated, was not linked to a voluntary recall of 65 batches of Eye Mo Red Eyes Formula by GSK Philippines, which happened in August 2014. GSK clarified that only Eye Mo Regular and Eye Mo Moist were sold in Singapore.

But even as stocks of Eye Mo dwindled in Singapore, counterfeit eye drops have been found here for the first time. The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said on Tuesday that it had seized limited quantities of fake Eye Mo Regular and Eye Mo Moist, which have been contaminated with bacteria, from two provision shops in Bishan and Chai Chee.

HSA added that contaminated eye drops may lead to infections or even serious complications such as corneal ulcers. It clarified that it had never banned the import or sale of GSK's Eye Mo products in Singapore previously.

Dr Dorothy Toh, acting assistant group director of HSA's Health Products Regulation Group, said that there have been no cases of people affected by the use of counterfeit Eye Mo so far.

The fake bottles of Eye Mo and cartons were printed with batch numbers and manufacturing date combinations which have never been used by GSK, said HSA.

Mr Mohamed Ismail Kuthubudin, the 52-year-old owner of H.J. Ventures in Bishan where one batch of counterfeit eye drops was found, said that when his Singapore supplier stopped distributing Eye Mo last year, he decided to look elsewhere.

About three months ago, he bought a dozen bottles of Eye Mo Regular during a trip to Kuala Lumpur, not knowing they were fakes. He then sold several bottles to some senior citizens.

At the other affected shop in Chai Chee, Eskimo Frozen Foods, the fake Eye Mo products were acquired from Paperline Enterprise, a supplier the shop has worked with for three years.

Said Mr Syed Hussain Jabeerulla, 42, a staff member of the shop: "I didn't know that the Eye Mo I had was counterfeit. I will not buy Eye Mo from any supplier again."

When contacted, Paperline Enterprise said that it is primarily a battery distributor, and that it is rare for the company to stock Eye Mo products. Paperline Enterprise added that HSA has contacted the company. HSA declined to comment on the suppliers involved in its probe.

Staff at the two shops were unaware that GSK had stopped distributing Eye Mo in the region since 2014. They said they had not received complaints from customers who bought the fake eye drops.

Mr Philip Leow, a 67-year-old retiree, said that he has been using Eye Mo since young, as it is a common solution for eye irritation.

When told GSK had stopped supplying Eye Mo, Mr Leow said: "Eye Mo has a very long history. Why did they take so long to announce that distribution has stopped?"

Both HSA and GSK have urged customers who suspect they have purchased counterfeit Eye Mo products to contact GSK via e-mail at sg.customer-relations@gsk.com or via phone on 1800-6227238.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 06, 2016, with the headline 'Why Eye Mo getting scarce in shops here'. Print Edition | Subscribe