The World Health Organization sounded the alarm on Friday about the rapid spread of counterfeit drugs, appealing for more cooperation among governments to stop the $35 billion a year global trade.
Shigeru Omi, WHO Western Pacific director, said the regional office had created a Web-based Rapid Alert System to help governments track the spread of fake drugs, which are estimated to make up 6 to 10 percent of all medicine on the world market. “We are dealing with a very dangerous situation,” Omi told a news conference on Friday. “And it is getting worse. The counterfeit drugs trade is an organized trans-national crime.”
He said the problem is most serious in developing countries, including the Mekong region of Southeast Asia where studies have found that most drugs on sale to treat malaria are fake.
Problem won't be solved overnight
The WHO considers a drug fake if has no active ingredient, the wrong substance, or the correct substance in the wrong quantity. Mislabeling and tampering with the expiry date of a medicine also make it counterfeit, the WHO says.
Omi said counterfeit drugs can result in prolonged illness or death as well as wasting health-care resources.
Budiono Santoso, WHO regional adviser on pharmaceuticals, said almost all types of medicine are being faked, including the most common antibiotics, painkillers and even multivitamins.
Health and law enforcement experts from the WHO’s 37 Western Pacific member states have been meeting in Manila for the past three days to discuss ways to curb the fake drug trade.
“This will not solve the problem overnight,” Omi said of the new tracking system.
“If this Rapid Alert System is a success, other regions will learn from us and, eventually, it will be a global network.”