The real cost of fake pharmaceuticals

Image by Ellis D

The struggles for healthcare and basic treatment services in developing countries, mainly across South America and Africa, are not only limited to the lack of medical practitioners and facilities, but stretch far wider: into a dark and morbid field of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

It seems that – with a basic chemistry-meets-DIY knowledge – almost anyone can mix together chalk, or starch or even flour into a pill shape, only to be sold on the market to those who need it most, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. According to a 2015 estimation from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, each year sees 180,000 deaths from counterfeit or substandard malaria tablets in Nigeria alone.

The trading of substandard or altogether false medical drugs on the markets of low-income countries has been on the radar of the World Health Organisation for years, and recorded in a global monitory system set up by WHO since 2013. Yet a report released by the organisation on November 28th showed the scope of this issue: 1 in 10 medical products circulating in the countries are fake.

But as incomprehensible as it may seem to make profit from the theft and exploitation of the vulnerable, it’s believed that the real damage is caused not by false pharmaceuticals, but by substandard medicine instead.

The production of under quality medicinal drugs is a human rights crime on every level; a crime against humanity in fact. It costs the lives of between 72,000 and 169,000 children who are dying of pnemoniya as a result of taking the drugs, and countries $30 billion a year, according to the report. Unfortunately, “the penalties for the crime are not strong enough to deter criminals” said lead researchers Gaurvika Nayyar and Joel Breman in a June 2012 report on poor-quality drugs, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases. In fact, Interpol Uganda – the international police organisation – reported only numerous counterfeit drug traders have been caught, and each charged with $520.

Polluting the pharmaceutical market, and with that endangering and exploiting the lives of thousands who are seeking medical aid, is a crime on all accounts. It is a reality that should be tackled by governments and pharmaceutical companies as a matter of urgency. Introducing harsher criminal consequences and a securer quality check is a first and last step. For every purchase of falsified or substandard drug, we all fail time and time again.

This article was originally published by fairplanet.