Counterfeit drugs on rise, pose global threat--WHO May 19 2010 , 9:10:00
Experts have warned that production and sale of counterfeit drugs is on the rise in rich and poor countries, with more unwary consumers buying them over the Internet.
They say fake or substandard versions of medicines are often hidden in cargos taking circuitous routes to mask their country of origin as part of criminal activity worth billions.
"They put people at risk of harm from medical products that may contain too much, too little, or the wrong active ingredient and/or contain toxic ingredients," said Margaret Hamburg, head of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "Counterfeiting is growing in complexity, scale and geographic scope," she said in a speech to the annual ministerial meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In wealthy countries, counterfeiting often involves "expensive hormones, steroids and anti-cancer medicines and pharmaceuticals related to lifestyle," a WHO report said. But in developing countries, especially Africa, counterfeit medicines are commonly available to treat life-threatening conditions such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, it said.
Nigeria, referring to a case involving tainted teething syrup in February 2009, said the consequences were often deadly. "Only last year we lost 84 children in Nigeria due to fraudulent practices in some countries. It is lives we are talking about," Nigeria's delegate told the talks.
Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, said that illicit products had also increased the problem of drug resistance, including to vital anti-malarials and HIV/AIDS drugs. "For a patient, any medicine with compromised safety, efficacy or quality is dangerous," she said.
Major generic drug makers India and Brazil, backed by health activists, charge that concerns about counterfeit drugs are being hijacked by pharmaceutical companies keen to protect their patents against legitimate generic competitors. - Reuters