About one in 10 drugs in poorer countries are fake, the World Health Organization found in a report released Tuesday. The report is the first to calculate the spread of counterfeit or substandard medicine around the world.
The WHO first launched a global initiative to examine the issue back in July 2013. So far, it has received about 1,500 reports of fake drugs from dozens of countries, which the report calls “a fraction of the problem.”
“Imagine a mother who gives up food or other basic needs to pay for her child’s treatment, unaware that the medicines are substandard or falsified, and then that treatment causes her child to die,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, in a statement. “This is unacceptable.”
The report also found:
- These fake drugs aren’t just “lifestyle” medicines that promise to instantly flatten your stomach. Instead, they include “everything from cancer medicines to contraception, from antibiotics to vaccines.”
- Such drugs have real consequences. Up to 158,000 people may die annually from fake malaria medication in sub-Saharan Africa, a separate WHO review discovered Tuesday.
- More than 40 percent of the reports to the World Health Organization about fake drugs came from areas where the agency works in Africa. Another 21 percent came from Europe; 21 percent of the reports also originated in the Americas.
- The more expensive medicine is, the more likely it is that people will be driven to unintentionally buy fake drugs on the black market. After people in the United States lost access to cancer drugs thanks to changing insurance policies, 19 medical practices in the United States tried to save money by buying cancer drugs online. Those medications contained zero active ingredients.
- Patient preference can also play a role in the spread of fake drugs. At least 37 Indonesian hospitals and health clinics injected children with fake vaccines after local healthcare workers convinced patients that imported — and pricy — vaccine brands carried fewer side effects.
- Overall, fake drugs were more likely to be found in places with poor governance and a lack of access to both affordable medicine and infrastructure to track manufacturing and distributions.
- This issue also carries economic implications: Low- and middle-income countries around the world are likely spending some $30 billion on fake drugs.