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Technology needed to win fake drugs war

26th February 2013

Substandard tuberculosis drugs are rife in many poor and middle-income countries, but are going undetected because of a lack of access to the necessary technology, a recent report from the US has warned.

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Fake and poor-quality medications are a danger to public health, and making or selling them is a crime in most jurisdictions.

However, this sort of crime is the least detected internationally, according to a report from the US Institute of Medicine (IOM).
Experts are calling for better access to newly developed technologies to tackle the problem.
Poorly trained chemists and infrastructure are hampering drug quality testing in many countries, both poor and middle-income.
A lack of sustainable, cheap and user-friendly technologies is also a barrier to the detection of fake and shoddy drugs.
Governments need to take steps to boost their ability to identify such medicines in their domestic markets.
The report suggests making detection technologies more accessible in low- and middle-income countries, and ensuring that field technologies and techniques are cheap, durable and easy to use and maintain.
It called on the US National Institute of Standards and Technology to fund such technologies for use in detection, analysis and sampling of medicines for testing.
Investment should be in field technology and rapid screening equipment, as well as in more sophisticated laboratory equipment, it said.
The Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) has already drafted an international code of practice which sets out guidelines on surveillance, regulation, and law enforcement, to be adopted by all countries.
A global agreement on enforcing these guidelines should now be reached, the report recommends.
Researchers writing in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease earlier this month said that substandard and falsified drugs are readily available in low and middle-income countries, and and probably contribute to anti-tuberculosis (TB) drug resistance.
Based on an analysis of common TB drugs isoniazid and rifampicin, the study looked at samples from pharmacies in 19 cities across Africa, as well as Brazil, China, India, Russia, Thailand and Turkey.
In all, 9% of the samples failed quality tests, but the failure rate was 16% in African countries, 10% in India and around 4% in other countries.
Pharmaceutical companies producing drugs for high-income countries tended to have higher standards, possibly because governments were better at testing for quality themselves, the US report said.
Cheaper prices were often the result of impure ingredients and corner-cutting during manufacture, while some countries simply didn't carry out many raids for fake drugs.
According to Hans Hogerzeil, professor of global health at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Indian government at both federal and state-level is not at all interested in medicine quality in general and fake medicines in particular.
He said the authorities had instead put industrial interests above public health.

Meanwhile, Indian public health activist Mira Siva warned that concerns over fake drugs were often the result of public relations manoeuvres on the part of multinationals pharmaceutical companies aimed at increasing public aversion to generic drugs made by smaller companies in India and Brazil.

 

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