Fake drugs on the increase worldwide

Fake drugs, which can be useless, harmful or deadly, are on the rise as they are easy to make and sell cheaply, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday as it launched a campaign to fight the problem.

Up to 25% of medicines consumed in developing nations—often to treat life-threatening conditions such as malaria, tuberculosis and Aids—are believed to be counterfeit or substandard, the WHO said.

And the problem is also widespread in richer countries where one of the best-selling fakes is Viagra, which can easily be bought on the Internet, it warned.

“Combating low-quality or illegal medicines is now more important then ever,” said WHO director general Lee Jong-Wook.

“Expanding access to safe, effective treatment for Aids and other illnesses is no longer an option, it is an imperative,” he said in a statement.

The United States Food and Drug Administration estimated that fake drugs alone comprise more than 10% of the global medicine market, generating annual sales of more than $32-billion.

A WHO survey between January 1999 and October 2000 found that 60% of fake medicine cases occurred in developing countries and 40% in industrialised nations.

“The problem is growing worldwide due to the dropping of trade barriers,” explained WHO spokesperson Daniela Bagozzi.

“Also fake medicines are easy to produce,” she said, noting how simple it was to put flour into a capsule and pass it off as medicine.

The WHO warned that most production of counterfeit drugs takes place in people’s backyard rather than in large warehouses.

“Counterfeiting of medicines is a hugely lucrative business due to high demand and low production costs,” the organisation said in a statement.

“The absence of deterrent legislation in many countries also encourages counterfeiters since there is no fear of being apprehended or prosecuted.”

International agencies including the WHO and Interpol began a three-day meeting in Hanoi on Tuesday to try to tackle the multimillion-dollar problem in southeast Asia.

Fake medicines are a growing concern in the Mekong countries of Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, where they undermine health programmes, according to the WHO.—Sapa-AFP

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