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Home > News > Op-ed: We must stem the growing risk of fake medical products

Published June 01, 2021 / Public health

Op-ed: We must curb the growing risk of fake medical products


Richard Amalvy, Chief Executive of Brazzaville Foundation, Prof. Moustafa Mijiyawa, Togo's Minister of Health and Public Hygiene, Greg Perry, Chief Executive IFPMA Deputy, and Michel Sidibé, Special Envoy for the African Medicines Agency of the African Union, published a op-ed on May 28.

"Imagine a sick child in a developing African country, suffering from a life-threatening disease and whose parents are desperate. The family is offered medicine at a price they can afford, but - unbeknownst to them - this offer comes from unscrupulous fake medicine dealers. The family part with what little money they have.


She administers, in good faith, a drug that, at best, will have no effect and, at worst, will harm the child by not treating the illness.


For nearlya quarter of the world's populationthis may be an all-too-familiar reality. Astonishingly, two billion people lack access to essential medicines, vaccines and medical devices.


Where there's a demand, there's a supply, and this gap is all too often filled by substandard and falsified medicines, peddled by profit-seeking organisations criminals, whatever the human cost.

These organisations will kill 122,000 children under the age of fivewho die each year from poor quality antimalarial medicines in sub-Saharan Africa. And in a number of African countries, falsified medicines account for between 30 and 60 percent of all medical products.


In the last four-year period for which figures are available, WHO reports having received 1,500 reports of substandard or falsified products, with the largest number of these reports coming from the African continent. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, this number has onlyincreasedSince the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, this number has increased, creating new challenges in supply chains with falsified vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics in circulation.


Even more shockingup to 169,000 children die each year from pneumonia due to falsified or substandard antibiotics or antimalarials, and 116,000 die from malaria for similar reasons in sub-Saharan Africa.


In addition, Covid-19 has amplified the urgent need for African countries to invest in effective and efficient regulation of medicines, medical products and technologies. In this respect, the ratification and creation of the African Medicines Agency (AMA) will be an essential instrument in strengthening the fight against substandard and falsified medicines and medical products, and ensuring that all patients in Africa have access to safe and effective quality medicines.


In January 2020, at the initiative of the President of the Togolese Republic, Faure Gnassingbé, Brazzaville Foundation organised held an international international summit in Lomé to discuss the challenges that substandard and falsified medicines pose to global security, supply chains and certain African communities.


The event brought together six African heads of state and ministers from the Republic of Congo, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda. Together, they launched the Lomé Initiative to criminalize the increase and spread of falsified and substandard medical products. The Gambia recently announced it was also joining this fight. WHO and the African Union have supported this unique global initiative.


The seven states that today support the Lomé Initiative are committed to combating the trafficking of non-compliant and falsified medicines by ratifying existing international agreements, introducing new criminal sanctions against traffickers and raising public awareness of this public health problem.


But other measures can and will be taken, through the implementation of a roadmap that will specifically support the development and implementation of national plans to combat trafficking in its systemic dimension through awareness-raising, a stronger regulatory framework and capacity-building. These plans will need to be designed on an inter-ministerial basis.


Africa Day takes place this week, as does the World Health Assembly. These events follow last week's World Health Summit, where world leaders called for stronger, more transparent drug supply chains, strong regulatory systems and equitable access to medical supplies.


To continue this vital conversation, the Brazzaville Foundation is convening another group of global leaders to continue discussing this troubling public health and safety issue. Their goal, and that of Brazzaville Foundation, is to dismantle the illegal 200 billion dollar of substandard and falsified medicines, which accounts for up to 15% of all medicines in circulation.


The round table addressed the following problem: although Africa is home to 17% of the world's population, it does not produces only a small proportion of the world's medicines.


Speakers agreed that implementation of the Lomé initiative would be crucial to meeting the essential medicines needs of the most vulnerable. Recent discussions have shown that demand for essential medicines exceeds supply in African countries, a situation that benefits illicit activities.


After taking stock of existing and new national and global initiatives, speakers assessed how Covid-19 has exacerbated the growing risk of falsified and substandard medicines circulating in Africa.


With leaders from the African Union, the World Health Organization and the UNODC, we discussed how tomorrow's health systems and supply chains can be strengthened and how our security and rule of law can be improved.


Only together, in partnership, can we put in place strong supply chains and national plans to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality medicines and medical devices, in order to achieve universal health coverage by 2030."


Read the op-ed on the Devex website.