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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Fake drugs pose health danger
African malaria victim
Bogus drugs cause misery in developing countries
Urgent action is needed to stem the growing tide of bogus medications that are either useless or actually cause harm, say doctors.

The British Medical Journal says that the international community must act to stop the "murderous" trade.

The journal highlights several alarming examples of fake drugs that are in circulation. They include:

  • A meningitis vaccine made of tap water
  • Contraceptive pills made of wheat flour
  • A paracetamol syrup made of industrial solvent
Other fake drugs include ingredients that can actually damage health.

The World Health Organisation estimates that fake drugs account for 10% of global pharmaceutical commerce.

Writing in the BMJ, Dr Paul Newton, of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine at Oxford University, said: "The accumulated evidence, such as it is, suggests that mortality and morbidity arising from this murderous trade are considerable, especially in developing countries."

Rules ignored

Guidelines to clamp down on the practice have been drawn up.

Bogus drugs
A survey of pharmacies in the Philippines found 8% of the drugs bought were fake
Another survey in Cambodia in 1999 showed 60% of the 133 drug sellers sampled were selling anti-malarial tablets that had either expired, were ineffective, or fake
However, most developing countries do not have the infrastructure and financial resources to implement them.

The BMJ says that 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.

It says far greater international political will to eliminate the problem is required.

The German Pharma Health Fund has developed a "Minilab" which can assess the authenticity of many key drugs relatively cheaply.

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'The BBC's Greg Morsbach'
"Fake drugs could total up to ten percent of global pharmaceutical sales"
See also:

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Fake drugs costing lives
07 Apr 01 | Health
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23 May 01 | Health
Africa to get cheap malaria drug
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