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Advancing Science for Global Health
Advancing Science for Global Health
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Poor quality drugs pose “public health emergency,” study says

March / April 2019 | Volume 18, Number 2

Close up of four pills in pack scanned using FDA tool, yellow glow, fake pills show white spots indicating irregularities
Close up of four pills in pack scanned using FDA tool, yellow glow, authentic pills show regular, even coloring, no spots
Photos by Nico Ranierie/FDA

Poor quality and fake medicines (top
photo) are an urgent threat.

More than a quarter of a million children die each year due to poor quality and fake medicines, according to a study published in March in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The assessment by a team of experts from the public and private sector concludes that a “pandemic” of falsified and substandard drugs for treating malaria, pneumonia, hypertension and other diseases has become a “public health emergency,” especially in low- and middle-income countries. It cites evidence that up to 155,000 children die every year due to fake malaria drugs alone, and that a similar number die from low-quality or counterfeit antimicrobial drugs prescribed to treat pneumonia. Other common fake drugs include prescription opioids and medicines for heart disease, erectile dysfunction and cancer.

Fogarty senior scientist emeritus Dr. Joel Breman, a co-author on the study, said that fake drugs are often peddled over the internet and sometimes linked to organized crime and terrorist groups. Poor quality drugs cost the global economy an estimated $200 billion per year, Breman said, and contribute to the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.

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