The outbreak of swine flu yet again brought fake medicines into the limelight, with Interpol warning of a quick spread in fake cures. Counterfeit and substandard medicines increasingly plague all corners of the world, causing death, suffering and provoking new drug resistant strands of disease.
Up to a third of medicines in poor countries are counterfeit, according to the UK’s Department for International Development, while surveys in poor parts of the world show up to half of medicines are fakes.
This paper estimates that 700,000 suffers of malaria and tuberculosis alone die annually due to fake drugs. This is the equivalent of four fully-laden jumbo jets crashing every single day.
The root causes of the scourge of fake drugs must be understood in order to tackle the problem, with defective legal systems and government distortions of pharmaceutical markets largely to blame.
Fortunately a new wave of technologies can protect the identity of high quality medicines, and are sufficiently complex to make counterfeiting economically unviable. Combined with stronger trademark laws and lower barriers to high quality medicines, these technologies offer real hope to the world’s poorest people.