WHO Estimates 10 Percent of Developing Countries' Medical Products Falsified or Substandard

"Substandard and falsified medicines particularly affect the most vulnerable communities," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general. "Imagine a mother who gives up food or other basic needs to pay for her child's treatment, unaware that the medicines are substandard or falsified, and then that treatment causes her child to die. This is unacceptable. Countries have agreed on measures at the global level – it is time to translate them into tangible action."

Newly available research from the World Health Organization indicates 10 percent of the medical products available in low- and middle-income countries are substandard or falsified. WHO announced the findings Nov. 28 and urged governments to take action.

As a result, people in those countries are taking medicines that fail to treat or prevent disease. This wastes the money of individuals and health systems that purchase these products, and the deficient medical products also can cause serious illness or death.

"Substandard and falsified medicines particularly affect the most vulnerable communities," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general. "Imagine a mother who gives up food or other basic needs to pay for her child's treatment, unaware that the medicines are substandard or falsified, and then that treatment causes her child to die. This is unacceptable. Countries have agreed on measures at the global level – it is time to translate them into tangible action."

Since 2013, WHO reported, it has received 1,500 reports of cases of substandard or falsified products. Of these, antimalarials and antibiotics are the most commonly reported. The largest number of reports (42 percent) came from the WHO African Region, while 21 percent came from the WHO Region of the Americas and 21 percent from the WHO European Region. WHO argues this is probably a small fraction of the total problem, and many cases may be going unreported in other regions.

"Many of these products, like antibiotics, are vital for people's survival and well-being," said Dr. Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant director-general for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals. "Substandard or falsified medicines not only have a tragic impact on individual patients and their families, but also are a threat to antimicrobial resistance, adding to the worrying trend of medicines losing their power to treat."

Until 2013, there was no global reporting of this information. WHO in July 2013 established a global surveillance system for substandard and falsified products, and now many countries are active in reporting suspicious medicines, vaccines, and medical devices. WHO by now has trained 550 regulators from 141 countries to detect and respond to this issue. As more people are trained, more cases are reported to WHO.

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