Pharma & drug development

The rise of fake medicines in Africa

According to the World Health Organization, sham drugs are the world’s most lucrative counterfeit goods, with a global market worth roughly $200bn, and Africa accounts for around 42% of the world’s cases. But what is behind this scourge, and what can be done to stop it? Abi Millar finds out.

Counterfeit drugs are a deadly, and growing, problem. According to the World Health Organization, as many as one in ten medical products circulating in developing countries are substandard or falsified. This leaches money from healthcare systems and kills thousands of people, mostly within vulnerable communities.

While it’s hard to put a figure on the scale of the problem, it is thought that fake drugs for pneumonia and malaria may be killing around 250,000 children every year. Some of the drugs are poorly manufactured or have been sold past their shelf life, while others are made and disseminated by criminal gangs. From the counterfeiters’ point of view, this is a lucrative industry, worth roughly $200bn a year.

The problem is particularly rife within Africa. Of all the fake drugs reported to the WHO between 2013 and 2017, 42% of the reports came from the African region. In March 2019 alone, the WHO raised alerts for fake meningitis vaccines in Niger and fake hypertension drugs in Cameroon. Then in August, falsified versions of the antibiotic Augmentin were discovered in Uganda and Kenya.

Read the rest of this article in the January 2020 edition of Pharma Technology Focus

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