SINGAPORE: Online listings of products making false or misleading health claims, such as being able to prevent and cure COVID-19, have been taken down by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) as part of an Internet-based enforcement exercise coordinated by Interpol.

Operation Pangea, which lasted from Mar 3 to Mar 10, saw more than 2,500 product listings on local e-commerce platforms being taken down, HSA said in a news release on Thursday (Mar 19).

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About half of these product listings made false claims related to COVID-19 such as being able to “strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus” or “prevent and cure coronavirus”, said the authority. Among the products listed were “Ayurveda herbs for Corona Virus” and “Norwegian Spruce Extract” to “prevent COVID-19”.

“There is currently no evidence that any health supplement, Chinese proprietary medicine, traditional medicine, herbs or ‘clip-on’ product can boost the immune system specifically to help prevent, protect against or treat COVID-19,” the authority said.

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Test kits claiming to be able to diagnose COVID-19 in 10 minutes were also detected. HSA said there is no evidence that test kits bought online can detect the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 accurately within minutes. Testing can only be done by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals to ensure an accurate test result and diagnosis, it said.

Consumers who buy products with such misleading claims may end up with a false sense of security and delay seeking treatment if they feel unwell, said HSA.

SELLING LEFTOVERS, UNUSED HEALTH PRODUCTS

Some sellers took steps to avoid getting caught, while others were selling leftovers or unused health products, according to HSA.

The sellers trying to evade detection advertised their products as common household brands of soaps and shampoos when they were in fact medicinal products and creams.

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An example of a listing that was taken down by HSA. (Image: Health Sciences Authority)

From Jan 1 to Mar 10 this year, more than 1,100 unique seller accounts were issued warnings on the regulatory requirements they have to comply with, HSA said.

There were also people selling their leftovers or unused health products such as steroid creams, antibiotic creams and painkillers. Many of them were first-time sellers who claimed they were unaware such products had to be prescribed by a doctor.

The sale of prescription medicines by individuals is an offence under the Health Products Act, HSA said.

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To protect themselves, consumers are advised to exercise caution when buying health products online and to take note of claims that cannot be verified.

When buying health products online, buy them from websites with an established retail presence in Singapore, HSA advised.

“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.

“Anyone who supplies such health products is liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to three years and/or fined up to S$100,000.”

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