10 percent of drugs in developing countries are substandard — WHO

The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) is pictured in Geneva [Photo Credit: VOANEWS]

An estimated 10 per cent of drugs circulating in low and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified, a new research by the World Health Organisation says.

According to a press statement by WHO on the report, the substandard or falsified products are mostly anti-malaria drugs and antibiotics.

Apart from the drugs failing to treat or prevent diseases for which they are taken, they can also cause serious illness or even death.

The global health agency said it received report of over 15,000 substandard or falsified products since 2003.

Of these, it said anti-malarias and antibiotics are the commonest with 42 per cent coming from the WHO African region and 21 per cent each from the WHO Americas and European regions.

WHO launched its Global Surveillance and Monitoring System for substandard and falsified medicines, vaccines and in-vitro diagnostic tests in July 2013 and this first report is based on data collected during the first four years of operation up to 30 June this year.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said substandard and falsified medicines particularly affect the most vulnerable communities.

“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. This is unacceptable.

“Countries have agreed on measures at the global level – it is time to translate them into tangible action,” he said

From Nigeria, there had been reports of patients maimed or killed from usage of fake medical products, either at the hospital by unsuspecting medical professionals or by the victims who buy drugs over the counter.

The government, through various regulatory agencies such as the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Nigeria Custom Service, and Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, has been trying to control manufacturing, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of drugs, cosmetics and medical devices.

Unfortunately, however, some of these products still sneak past regulators into the market.

Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals at WHO, said many of the products, like antibiotics, are vital for people’s survival and well-being.

She said that substandard or falsified medicines not only have a tragic impact on individual patients and their families, “but they are also a threat to antimicrobial resistance, adding to the worrying trend of medicines losing their power to treat.”

While blaming the supply chain for infiltration of fake drugs into the society, WHO said it has received complaints of substandard or falsified medical products, which include drugs for cancer treatments and contraception.

It said this malaise is not confined to high-value medicines or well-known brand names but are split almost evenly between generic and patented products.

According to WHO, substandard medical products reach patients when the tools and technical capacity to enforce quality standards in manufacturing, supply and distribution are limited.

“Falsified products, on the other hand, tend to circulate where inadequate regulation and governance are compounded by unethical practice by wholesalers, distributors, retailers and health care workers. A high proportion of cases reported to WHO occur in countries with constrained access to medical products,” the agency added.

Ms. Simão added that globalization is making it harder to regulate medical products.

“The bottom line is that this is a global problem. Many falsifiers manufacture and print packaging in different countries, shipping components to a final destination where they are assembled and distributed,” she lamented.

“Sometimes, offshore companies and bank accounts have been used to facilitate the sale of falsified medicines.

“Countries need to assess the extent of the problem at home and cooperate regionally and globally to prevent the traffic of these products and improve detection and response,” she said.

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