In a recent press release The National Institute of Health warned that a real and urgent threat exists that could undermine decades of successful efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. That threat comes from the fake and poor quality medicines that have flooded the world markets. Scientists have estimated that up to 41 percent of specimens tested failed to meet quality standards in global studies of about 17,000 drug samples.
That report came in a special online supplement of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which laid out the extent of the bad drug problem in 17 papers.
Among the more alarming findings involved malaria prophylactics. According to the report 122,000 children under the age of 5 are dying in 39 sub-Saharan African countries due to the use of fake [that is, no active-ingredient] anti-malarials. That figure represents up to 20 percent of all the deaths reported due to malaria in the region
Further complicating the problem are substandard medicines – medicines that only contain partial amounts of the reported active ingredient. These medicines may actually accelerate the development of resistant germs. These substandard doses aren’t enough to eliminate the targeted germ and instead leave behind germs that are the most resistant to the drug – in effect creating new superbugs.
At the heart of this pandemic is profit and greed. It is estimated that these fake and substandard drugs bring in $75 billion a year in revenue, and that estimate is believed by many to be conservative. Interpol reports that India and China seem to be the countries where most fake medicines are being produced, and manufacturers there can easily avoid oversight.
If this tide of fake medicines is to be stemmed, the governments in China and India need to crackdown on manufacturers and increase the punishments for knowingly or negligently making or selling fake medicines. It is also imperative that the United States Food and Drug Administration take a leading role and begin to partner with international organizations to reign in these bogus drugs. This is a global problem that affects us all – malaria, tuberculosis, and superbugs don’t recognize national boundaries.