x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Texts promoting weight-loss drugs 'ought to be ignored'

Ministry of Health says the advertised products are unlicensed and have no guarantee of safety.

DUBAI // Consumers have been warned not to fall for text-message promotions offering weight-loss drugs and supplements.

The Ministry of Health has advised people not to buy the products advertised as there is no guarantee of their safety.

"Any kind of product that is advertised, be that on television, radio, newspapers or other media, must be licensed by the Ministry of Health," said Dr Amin Al Amiri, the assistant undersecretary for medical practice and licensing at the ministry.

"This means any type of medicine, medical equipment or anything that has a medical claim, and this includes food supplements, cannot be advertised without permission."

Dr Al Amiri said there had been recent reports of people receiving BlackBerry messages offering weight-loss pills and supplements that had not been approved by the ministry.

"These messages are not licensed by the ministry so I would advise people not to buy them," he said.

"We will work with the relevant authorities like the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, police or economic department to block future messages being sent to people."

Legal action could also be taken against the company behind the texts, said Dr Al Amiri.

"We will refer the matter to the relevant authority, be that the police or courts," he said. "We don't tend to get many cases like this so I wouldn't say it was a common problem in the UAE. It is a worldwide issue that affects many countries."

Medical advertising is regulated as part of law No 7 of 2007. Under the rules all proposed advertising for medical equipment, treatment or products must be licensed by the Ministry of Health's medical advertising department.

"The main objective is to protect the public from fake equipment, counterfeit drugs or poor quality food supplements," said Dr Al Amiri.

"We request any individual, institute, ministry or authority to inform us immediately of any type of text-message advert that claims to offer medical products. They have not been approved by the ministry and we will take action against those that break the law.

"We have a responsibility to the public, as well as the health authorities, to make sure medical products sold and advertised are safe and effective."

A statement on the medical advertising department's webpage reads: "The philosophy of the … department is mainly to enhance community health and to protect it from misleading advertisements, to push healthcare expenditure in the right direction and to ensure actual, reliable return for what community members spend on healthcare services."

nhanif@thenational.ae