WHO Report: Fake Drug Trade Is Deadly

A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that counterfeit or substandard drugs are a growing threat to patients, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. WHO researchers pooled findings from 100 studies between 2007 and 2016, covering more than 48,000 samples, and discovered that one in 10 drugs sold in developing countries is fake or substandard, leading to tens of thousands of deaths.

In addition, many authorized medicines do not meet quality standards for reasons such as improper storage.

The most common fake and low-quality drugs are antimalarials and antibiotics, but the problem extends to anti-cancer drugs as well. These drugs could contain incorrect doses or ingredients, or lack active ingredients.

A research team at the University of Edinburgh, which was commissioned by WHO to study this impact, noted that up to 72,000 deaths from childhood pneumonia could be attributed to the use of antibiotics with reduced activity, increasing to 169,000 deaths if drugs had no activity. Poor-quality drugs can also contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Another team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that 116,000 additional deaths from malaria could be caused each year by bad antimalarials in sub-Saharan Africa.

Pharmaceutical sales in low- and middle-income countries reach nearly $300 billion per year, which implies that trade in fake medicines is a $30 billion business, according to a report from Reuters.

Since 2013, the WHO has received 1,500 reports of fake and low-quality products, and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 42 percent of these reports. No global data existed on this topic prior to 2013.

Source: Reuters, November 28, 2017.