Coronavirus fuels a surge in fake medicines  

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The global pharmaceutical industry is worth more than $1 trillion. Vast supply chains stretch all the way from key manufacturers in places such as China and India, to packaging warehouses in Europe, South America or Asia, to distributors sending medicines to every country in the world.”

 

Growing numbers of fake medicines linked to coronavirus are on sale in developing countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

A BBC News investigation found fake drugs for sale in Africa, with counterfeiters exploiting growing gaps in the market.

The WHO said taking these drugs could have “serious side effects”.

One expert warned of “a parallel pandemic, of substandard and falsified products”.

Around the world, people are stockpiling basic medicines. However, with the world’s two largest producers of medical supplies – China and India – in lockdown, demand now outstrips the supply and the circulation of dangerous counterfeit drugs is soaring.

In the same week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic last month, Operation Pangea, Interpol’s global pharmaceutical crime fighting unit, made 121 arrests across 90 countries in just seven days, resulting in the seizure of dangerous pharmaceuticals worth over $14m (£11m).

From Malaysia to Mozambique, police officers confiscated tens of thousands of counterfeit face masks and fake medicines, many of which claimed to be able to cure coronavirus. Month Interpol seized 34,000 counterfeit and substandard surgical masks.

“The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis, shows a total disregard for people’s lives,” said Interpol’s Secretary General Jurgen Stock.

According to the WHO, the broader falsified medicines trade, which includes medicines which may be contaminated, contain the wrong or no active ingredient, or may be out-of-date, is worth more than $30bn in low and middle-income countries.

“Best case scenario they [fake medicines] probably won’t treat the disease for which they were intended”, said Pernette Bourdillion Esteve, from the WHO team dealing with falsified medical products.

“But worst-case scenario they’ll actively cause harm, because they might be contaminated with something toxic.”

The supply chain

The global pharmaceutical industry is worth more than $1 trillion. Vast supply chains stretch all the way from key manufacturers in places such as China and India, to packaging warehouses in Europe, South America or Asia, to distributors sending medicines to every country in the world.

There is “probably nothing more globalised than medicine” said Esteve. However, as the world goes into lockdown, the supply chain has already begun to uncouple.

Several pharmaceutical companies in India told the BBC they are now operating at 50-60% of their normal capacity. As Indian companies supply 20% of all basic medicines to Africa, nations there are being disproportionately affected.

Culled from BBC News

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