Over 2,500 online listings of health products removed

Items made false, misleading claims or were adulterated: Health Sciences Authority

At least 2,500 listings of tainted health products, or products making false or misleading health claims, have been removed from local e-commerce platforms.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said yesterday that the products were removed after Internet-based enforcement action coordinated by Interpol between March 3 and 10.

Interpol is the International Criminal Police Organisation, and this is the 13th consecutive year that HSA has taken part in this global week of action against the online sale of illicit medical products. Ninety countries took part this year.

Over the week, HSA intensified online surveillance to detect and disrupt the sale of illegal health products, the authority said.

About half of the listings taken down were for products falsely claiming, or misleading buyers into thinking, that they could prevent or treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

They included health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines and test kits which claimed to "strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus", "prevent and cure coronavirus" or detect the virus in under 10 minutes, the authority said.

HSA clarified that there is no evidence these products can prevent, treat or test for Covid-19. Testing for the virus can be done only by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals, to ensure proper accuracy and diagnosis.

Aside from coronavirus-related listings, more than 32 per cent of the products taken down were adulterated lifestyle items such as weight-loss pills, sexual enhancement medicines and cosmetic products, some of which contained potent medicinal ingredients.

Many of the sellers disguised their products as common household items such as soaps and shampoos, when they were in fact illegal medicinal products and creams, to evade the authorities and the e-commerce platform administrators.

Between Jan 1 and March 10, more than 1,100 of these sellers were issued warnings.

The investigations also found that some sellers were selling leftover or unused prescribed health products such as steroid creams, antibiotic creams and painkillers. Many of these were listed by first-time sellers who claimed to be ignorant of the fact that prescription medicines can be provided only by doctors, and selling prescription medicines is an offence under the Health Products Act.

HSA also advised the public to be cautious when buying health products online, especially if they are cheaper than usual, since the lower prices may be due to unsafe and inferior ingredients, manufacturing methods and storage conditions.

About half of the listings taken down were for products falsely claiming, or misleading buyers into thinking, that they could prevent or treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They included health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines and test kits which claimed to "strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus", "prevent and cure coronavirus" or detect the virus in under 10 minutes.

Buyers should also be wary of products that claim to have been developed based on scientific studies, as these claims often cannot be verified.

As there is no evidence that any health supplements, Chinese medicines, traditional medicines, herbs or "clip-on" products - usually clipped onto clothing - can boost the immune system to prevent, protect against or treat Covid-19, these claims are misleading.

There is also no evidence that test kits bought online can detect the coronavirus accurately in minutes.

Consumers who use these test kits may end up with a false sense of security and delay seeking treatment.

Consumers who buy health products online should do so only from websites with an established retail presence in Singapore.

"HSA takes a serious view against those engaged in the sale and supply of health products that are adulterated or carry misleading claims, and will take strong enforcement action against such persons," the authority said.

Those found guilty of supplying such health products may be jailed for up to three years, fined up to $100,000, or both.

Members of the public who come across illegal, counterfeit or other suspicious health products are encouraged to call HSA on 6866-3485, or e-mail hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2020, with the headline 'Over 2,500 online listings of health products removed'. Print Edition | Subscribe