A new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), says that West Africa has “increasingly become the target of a range of counterfeit medications, including antibiotics, antiretroviral drugs and medicines to fight malaria and tuberculosis.”
The high demand for these types of drugs in West Africa and some other developing nations is the primary reason behind the significant increase in drug counterfeiting. West Africa has the highest estimated rate of malaria incidence on the African continent (98 million cases per year), according to a UNODC release. Nearly 60% of anti-infective medicines tested in Asia and Africa have been found to contain “insufficient amounts of active ingredients,” which can potentially promote the development of drug-resistant strains that can spread beyond those regions, says the release.
Because consumers have virtually no purchasing power or political voice, and counterfeit detection methods are extremely low in these regions, says the UNODC release, the environment is a counterfeiter’s dream. Revenues gained from 45 million counterfeit antimalarial medicines totaled $438 million in 2005, according to the UNODC report, and in 2010, that number is expected to rise to $75 billion.
I’ve blogged about this topic before (Mosquito Season is Year-Round for Some; GSK Seeks to Help; The Love-Hate Relationship Between Pharma and International Relief), noting that pharma as well as national governments around the world need to take action. It’s unfair that patients in less rich nations are bearing the brunt of counterfeit drugs—especially when they have populations that need these drugs most. Fortunately, industry seems to be paying more attention to developing products for diseases that affect the developing world (Pharma Tackles Tropical Diseases, see the July 16 PharmTech eNewsletter to read), but we also need to focus on putting an end to counterfeit drugs in these regions.
In its release, UNODC specifically calls for “rich states to stop using West Africa as a dumping ground for fake medicines” and asks governments to step up their regulatory efforts in this area. This is definitely a step in the right direction.