Tens of thousands of individuals in developing countries are dying after taking counterfeit and ineffective drugs, according to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO). One in ten drugs in these nations is a fake, leading patients – many of whom are children – to succumb to treatable illnesses such as malaria and pneumonia.
The WHO says the counterfeit drug trade is growing, as increased internet access allows for the sale of fake drugs online. These pharmaceuticals could contain incorrect doses of the drug, no active pharmaceutical ingredient, or even dangerous contaminants. To complicate matters, improper handling and storage of genuine medicines is also leading to quality control failures in the regions.
“Substandard and falsified medicines particularly affect the most vulnerable communities,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is unacceptable.”
In the current study, the WHO performed a meta-analysis of 100 studies of counterfeiting, conducted between 2007 and 2016. Combined, the studies looked at over 48,000 drug samples and found that 10.5 percent of medicines in poorer and developing countries were fake or of less-than-acceptable quality.
Since the pharmaceutical market in these countries is valued at $300 billion each year, the fake drug trade could be worth as much as $30 billion. According to the University of Edinburgh, up to 169,000 pediatric patient deaths from pneumonia could be linked to antibiotic drugs containing no active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Forty-two percent of the 1,500 reports of fake drug products sent to the WHO since 2013 have been from Sub-Saharan Africa. Antibiotics and antimalarial drugs are commonly counterfeited in this area, however many other drug categories – including cancer therapies – are affected by the fake drug trade.