The World Health Organization urged governments on Wednesday to crack down on the $30 billion market in fake drugs which make up 30 percent of the market in some poorer countries.
“Counterfeit medicines ... can harm patients by failing to treat serious conditions, can provoke drug resistance, and in some cases kill,” WHO said in a statement.
WHO launched a program, backed by health bodies and police, that aims to promote greater legal oversight of the sale of drug products and convince governments to treat the fake drug trade as a serious crime and punish it severely.
“The latest estimates ... show that more than 30 percent of medicines in some areas of Latin America, southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are counterfeit,” it said.
In August, WHO said it believed the illegal trade worldwide was worth more than $30 billion a year or between 5 and 8 percent of the annual market for medicines.
In richer emerging economies, counterfeit drugs made up 10 percent of the market and in many of the independent republics of the former Soviet Union the figure went as high as 20 percent.
Fakes also account for 50 percent of those medicines sold on the Internet by illegal operators, as opposed to legal pharmaceutical companies that offer drugs at reduced prices but demand medical prescriptions before fulfilling Internet orders.
Health and police authorities across the globe say criminal gangs have moved into the business as a lucrative money-spinner. WHO and Interpol have already mounted an “Operation Jupiter” in southeast Asia against the trade.
Dr. Harvey Bale, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Associations (IFPMA) told the first meeting in Bonn of the IMPACT taskforce that “the problem is growing everywhere”.
IMPACT links WHO with some 20 international partners including Interpol, the European Commission and the World Customs Organization.
WHO said IMPACT would present guiding principles for legislation “to help countries adapt their laws to the gravity of the crime”, treated in most countries, it said, as no worse than counterfeiting luxury items like handbags or watches.
“In some industrialized countries, counterfeiting t-shirts receives a harsher punishment than counterfeiting medicines,” the U.N. agency said.