'Fake Medicines' Pose Huge Risk To Public Health, Officials Warn

04/21/2015 05:35 pm ET | Updated Apr 21, 2015
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A collection of journal articles published this week points to poor quality medicine as a "real and present" threat to the fight against ongoing health crises around the globe. The articles, including 17 published in "The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene," calls the proliferation of fake drugs a global pandemic responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and a troubling increase in antimicrobial resistance.

Scientists found up to 41 percent of medications used to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis weren't up to international standards, part of an estimated $75 billion annual trade in illicit medicine. One study points to the deaths of 122,450 African children in 2013 due to counterfeit malaria drugs.

"The pandemic of falsified and substandard medicines is pervasive and underestimated, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where drug and regulatory systems are weak or non-existent," Jim Herrington, a public health professor at the University of North Carolina, said in a statement accompanying the report.

A prime focus of the research is the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that could one day eclipse cancer as a leading cause of death. A report published late last year estimated up to 10 million people could be killed annually by these advanced infections by 2050 if new methods of treatment aren't discovered. Much of the growing public health crisis has been spurred by an overuse of traditional antibiotics in both humans and animals.

In a bit of good news, four studies tested the efficacy of emerging drug quality tests to help curb the spread of substandard medicine, which the authors called "promising." The report urges for new investments in these tools so low- and middle-income nations can strengthen their own ineffective drug regulatory systems.

In January, the Food and Drug Administration created the Office of Pharmaceutical Quality to ensure Americans have access to quality medicine. The Washington Post called the new office a "complex undertaking" due to the large number of drugs imported from overseas.

Tuesday's collection of articles was sponsored by the National Institute of Health's Fogarty International Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the New Venture Fund.

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