An estimated 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries is either substandard or falsified, according to new research from World Health Organization (WHO).
Since 2013, WHO has received 1500 reports of cases of substandard or falsified products. Of these, antimalarials and antibiotics are the most commonly reported. Most of the reports (42%) come from the WHO African Region, 21% from the WHO Region of the Americas, and 21% from the WHO European Region. This is likely just a small fraction of the total problem and many cases may be going unreported. For example, only 8% of reports of substandard or falsified products to WHO came from the WHO Western Pacific Region, 6% from the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, and just 2% from the WHO South-East Asia Region.
“Many of these products, like antibiotics, are vital for people’s survival and wellbeing,” says Dr Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals at WHO. “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”.
WHO has received reports of substandard or falsified medical products ranging from cancer treatment to contraception. They are not confined to high-value medicines or well-known brand names and are split almost evenly between generic and patented products.
Latest WHO research estimates a 10.5% failure rate in all medical products used in low- and middle-income countries. This study was based on more than 100 published research papers on medicine quality surveys done in 88 low- and middle-income countries involving 48 000 samples of medicines. Lack of accurate data means that these estimates are just an indication of the scale of the problem. More research is needed to more accurately estimate the threat posed by substandard and falsified medical products.
“Countries need to assess the extent of the problem at home and cooperate regionally and globally to prevent the traffic of these products and improve detection and response”, said Dr Simão.