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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Asia warned over fake drugs
An health worker administers oral polio vaccines to an child in the Philippines
Drug companies fear damage to public confidence
A substantial number of medical drugs sold in South East Asia are fakes, a study has shown.

Scientists are now calling for more international action to combat the growing trade in fake drugs.

The scientists found anti-malarial drugs that were useless, meningitis vaccine made from tap water and contraceptive pills that consisted of nothing but wheat flour.


Counterfeit drugs kill people

Lambert Rago, World Health Organisation
They blame mafia-like organisations for the killing of innocent people with fake treatments, concocted in their laboratories.

"One third of all the anti-malarial drugs artesunate that we bought in South East Asia was fake, containing none of the drug it was supposed to contain," said Dr Paul Newton of Oxford University, who led the research, published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Friday.

The fake drugs appear very convincing, he said. The counterfeiters copy the blister-pack design, and even provide fake holograms on the package.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in 10 pharmaceutical drugs sold around the world are fakes.

'Organised crime'

It is calling for more co-operation between legitimate manufacturers and customs authorities to fight the illicit trade.

Fake drugs
Philippines: 8% of drugs found to be fake
Cambodia: 60% of anti-malaria drugs fake or ineffective
S E Asia: 38% of anti-malaria drugs in five countries are fake
Various studies quoted by BMJ

"Counterfeit drugs kill people," said Lambert Rago of the WHO. "There are a lot of case reports where vaccines do not contain anything and you just don't vaccinate people at all."

The BMJ says drug companies have tended to avoid publicising the problem for fear of "damaging public confidence in medicines".

And it says some countries, well aware of the scale of their problem, have preferred to ignore it.

The BMJ says that much of the trade is probably linked to organised crime, corruption, the narcotics trade, unregulated pharmaceutical companies, and the business interests of "unscrupulous" politicians.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Health
Malaria drug offers new hope
08 Dec 01 | Health
'Encouraging' malaria vaccine
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