WHO study: African Fake Drug Rates are Dangerously High

A new study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) has revealed that the prevalence of ineffective or counterfeit drugs is dangerously high in Africa, particularly in the western part of the continent.

In particular, the study examined common medications used for the treatment of malaria and tuberculosis. The results of the research show that anti-malarial and anti-tuberculosis drugs tested in Nigeria failed more than 70 percent of the time they were used, the highest on the continent. Other West African nations posted similarly high numbers, with Ghana's failure rate coming in at more than 60 percent and Cameroon's topping 50 percent, according to a report from GhanaWeb.

Failure rates of anti-malarial and anti-tuberculosis drugs elsewhere on the continent, particularly in East Africa, were lower. Kenya and Tanzania were reported to have relatively low rates, while 100 percent of the products tested in Ethiopia passed the tests conducted by the WHO and USP.

The results of the research were presented at a public lecture in Accra, Ghana, sponsored by the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. The lecture, titled "The Threat of Counterfeit and Substandard Drugs to Healthcare Delivery in Developing Countries", was given by Ivan Addae-Mensah, currently a member of the WHO Expert Committee on Quality Assurance of Medicines and previously a vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana, reported Modern Ghana.

"[The study] confirms that the West African sub-region really has a big problem with regard to anti-malarial drugs," Addae-Mensah said in the lecture.

Addae-Mensah also revealed that different drugs failed the WHO/USP tests at different rates. According to the study, artemether lumefantrine – an anti-malarial treatment commonly sold under the brand names Riamet and Co-Artem – had the lowest failure rate, while amodiaquine artesunate posted the highest rate of failure.

Additionally, he reported that drugs made by companies that had been approved by the WHO failed at a low rate, while those made by non-approved companies failed in an alarmingly high percentage of tests.

According to the study, the biggest cause of failure in the study was poor dissolution, referring to how well the drug releases its dose when it is ingested. When a drug has poor dissolution, "it passes through the body without doing anything or may even cause harm and is excreted," Addae-Mensah reported.

 "It could indeed be your child, a close relative or yourself who will be treated with the counterfeit, fake, falsified or sub-standard medicine," Prof Addae-Mensah stated.