WHO Renews Warning on Counterfeit Meds

"They can be found in illegal street markets, via unregulated websites through to pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals" and are difficult to detect because they are frequently designed to appear identical to the genuine product and may not cause an obvious adverse reaction, according to the updated WHO fact sheet.

No country in the world is untouched by the damage caused by substandard, spurious, falsely labeled, falsified, and counterfeit medical products, the World Health Organization warns in an updated fact sheet about what it calls SSFFC medical products. These can harm patients and fail to treat the diseases for which they were intended, and they lead to loss of confidence in medicines, health care providers, and health systems, according to WHO.

WHO has received reports of fake medicines, vaccines, and in vitro diagnostics; it warned that anti-malarials and antibiotics are among the most commonly reported SSFFC medical products, with both generic and innovator medicines being falsified, "including very expensive products for cancer to very inexpensive products for treatment of pain."

"They can be found in illegal street markets, via unregulated websites through to pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals" and are difficult to detect because they are frequently designed to appear identical to the genuine product and may not cause an obvious adverse reaction, according to the fact sheet.

More than 920 falsified medical products have reported so far. "Falsified medical products may contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient or the wrong amount of the correct active ingredient. They are also found to commonly contain corn starch, potato starch, or chalk. Some SSFFC medical products have been toxic in nature with either fatal levels of the wrong active ingredient or other toxic chemicals," according to the agency. "SSFFC medical products are often produced in very poor and unhygienic conditions by unqualified personnel, and contain unknown impurities and are sometimes contaminated with bacteria."

Consumers should be cautious about:

  • spam email advertising medicines
  • lack of authenticity, no verification logo or certificate
  • spelling mistakes and poor grammar on the packaging
  • websites that do not display a physical address or landline
  • websites offering prescription only medicines without a prescription
  • suspiciously low-priced products

A Global Surveillance and Monitoring System for SSFFC medical products was launched in 2013. It is open to all WHO Member States, and currently 113 countries and 18 of the largest procurement agencies have been trained to use the system. Its purpose is to provide technical support in emergencies, link incidents between countries and regions, and issue WHO medical product alerts; and also to accumulate a validated body of evidence to more accurately demonstrate the scope and harm caused by SSFFC medical products and identify vulnerabilities and trends.

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