The authors suggest that the reluctance is "apparently motivated by the belief that the publicity will harm the sales of brand-name products in a fiercely competitive business."
Up to 15% of all drugs sold worldwide--worth over $35 billion--are fakes. In parts of Africa and Asia, the situation is even more serious--over half of purchased drugs are fakes.
The estimated 192,000 patients killed by fake drugs in China alone in 2001 gives an indication of the health consequences of counterfeiting. The recent discovery of fake HIV medicines in Central Africa "raises the prospect of a disastrous setback in the treatment of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, unless vigorous action is taken now," say the authors.
As the second Global Forum on Pharmaceutical Anticounterfeiting gets underway in Paris next week (March 1517), the article outlines examples of counterfeiting around the world. The authors, who include tropical medicine experts Professor Nick White and Dr. Paul Newton from Oxford University, United Kingdom, and Mahidol University, Thailand, and drug regulators Dr. Dora Akunyili of Nigeria and Mr. Kyeremateng Agyarko of Ghana, will present their provocative findings at the Paris meeting.
The problem is enormous. The authors report, for example, that in December of 2000, Belgian customs seized 57,600 packs of fake GSK Halfan (anti-malarial) capsules en route from China to Nigeria. The counterfeiters in China were preparing to export 43 tons of counterfeits of 17 brands of drugs from seven international pharmaceutical companies.