A new report from the International Policy Network and sponsored by IMANI Center for Policy & Education details the shocking burden of fake drugs in less developed countries.
Fake tuberculosis and malaria drugs alone are estimated to kill 700,000 people a year. That's equivalent to four fully laden jumbo jets crashing every day.
The report lays bare the ballooning problem of counterfeit and substandard drugs, which can constitute one third of the drug supply in certain African countries. These dodgy drugs result in unnecessary death and increased levels of drug resistance.
The report highlights more shocking evidence, such as:
• Nearly half the drugs sold in Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, Burundi, and the Congo are substandard
• About two thirds of artesunate (anti-malaria) drugs in Laos, Myanmar Cambodia and Vietnam contain insufficient active ingredient
• Most fake drugs originate from China and India
Current attempts to deal with the problem through tougher regulation and criminal penalties do not address the root causes of counterfeiting. Worse, many countries have corrupt regulatory and legal systems that are easily exploited by criminal counterfeiters, so additional rules will only increase corruption.
Governments also exacerbate the problem by making legitimate drugs more expensive through taxes and tariffs.
The report stresses that what is needed are effective mechanisms to enable purchasers of drugs to be assured that what they are buying is the real thing. Identity preservation systems using unique codes verifiable through a simple text message such as developed by www.Mpedigree.net, which partners IMANI are one possible solution. More effective trademark systems would also help.
Co-sponsor and Executive Director of IMANI, Franklin Cudjoe, who is speaking at the ongoing World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva on counterfeit medicines said: "As we in Africa falter to institutionalise respect for trademark laws, we cannot allow counterfeiters to win by killing mostly our illiterate folks who have little information on the efficacy of standard medicines. A free press, free courts, and open trade regimes which allow technologies like www.Mpedigree.net to succeed would actually increase the quality of medicines."