Fake medicines pose urgent risk

Counterfeit drugs are now "a global pandemic" and experts say the problem presents a "real and urgent" threat to public health around the world, researchers said this week.

Fake and substandard drugs cause tens of thousands of deaths around the globe each year and threaten to roll back decades of efforts to combat malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other conditions.

Jim Herrington, a University of North Carolina public health professor who co-edited a collection of articles on the topic published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said in a statement:

“The pandemic of falsified and substandard medicines is pervasive and underestimated, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where drug and regulatory systems are weak or non-existent.”

The articles, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looks at various aspects of the long-standing problem of substandard drugs, as well as looking at potential solutions to reducing the harm they cause each year.

Falsified and poor quality malaria drugs tcontributed to the deaths of an estimated 122,000 African children in 2013. In another study, scientists examined nearly 17,000 samples of antibiotics, antimalarial and anti-tuberculosis drugs and found that as many as 41 percent failed to meet quality specifications.

Fake medicines account for an estimated $75 billion market annually and wheile the problem is most pervasive in poor countries dealing with malaria and other infectious diseases, it also affects medicines for cancer, cardiovascular disease and other serious illnesses around the globe.

The World Health Organization has often warned about counterfeit drugs, particularly in developing countries, and in the past has worked with international investigators in an effort to remove the criminal networks raking in billions of dollars from the trade.

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