As if access to basic healthcare and drugs was not hard enough for developing countries, a new study reveals that some of the drugs that we are able to get hold of may be making us sicker. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in a report released on November 28, an estimated 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low and middle-income countries are either substandard or falsified.
Many of these substandard drugs make their way to Africa. Since 2013, WHO has received 1500 reports of cases of substandard or falsified products, and 42% of those reports come from Africa with antimalarials and antibiotics being the most commonly reported.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that an additional 116,000 deaths are caused each year by falsified or substandard malaria medication. The cost of these fake drugs is about $38.5 million to patients and health ministries.
This means that a large number of people are taking medicines that fail to treat or prevent diseases. Not only is this a waste of money for individuals and health ministries that purchase these products, but substandard or falsified medical products lead to serious illness and death - because they weaken the immune system of those ingesting them. When treated with the incorrect drugs, bacteria and viruses are able to develop a resistance to treatment, making them more dangerous.
We really wish we could report that there was a solution coming, but as it stands, the scope of the problem is still unknown. Before 2013, there was no global reporting system, which means the numbers WHO has uncovered from the approximately 1,500 cases are very likely only a fraction of the scale of the problem.