A German NGO, “Doctors for Developing Countries,” is finding its work in Africa hampered by overwhelming volumes of fake drugs in the supply chain. It is using a new tool that provides identifies some types of fakes, but not all of them.

A German NGO, “Doctors for Developing Countries,” is finding its work in Africa hampered by overwhelming volumes of fake drugs in the supply chain. It is using a new tool that provides identifies some types of fakes, but not all of them.

Deutsche Welle Radio reports that since 1984 a German NGO, “Doctors for Development Countries,” (Ärzte für die Dritte Welt) has sent more than 2,500 doctors abroad to provide medical services for locals in developing countries. Every year, ADW sends doctors to ten projects to provide much-needed medical care in underserved countries, like Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Nicaragua. However the care provided by these doctors is hindered by their encounters with fake drugs.

Dr Harald Kischlat, Secretary General of Doctors for Developing Countries is concerned about the problem. “Our projects aim to provide medical services to people who could otherwise not afford them.” He says that the doctors provide medical advice and use local materials, often encountering fake medications.

Dr. Ulrike Holzgrabe, Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Wurzburg, has worked in Tanzania, Ghana and Cameroon. “In Germany, for instance, to buy a counterfeit drug is not very often, let’s say two to five percent might be counterfeit. But if you go to Africa you have a huge amount of counterfeits, up to 60%.”

These counterfeits have significant impact in countries where populations can have multiple serious illnesses. Dr. Holzgrabe describes the situation, “In our practice we see about 200 people a day. We are a group of six doctors. Some people are so sick I have seen nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Often patients have both tuberculosis and AIDS. We incorporate them into our AIDS program where they receive anti-retroviral drugs.”

Says Dr. Holzgrabe, “Counterfeits can contain no active ingredient, can contain the wrong ingredient, or active ingredient of low quality. All of them are dangerous.”

“For our work, it is vital that we don’t use counterfeit products but only real drugs that really help patients and don’t make them even more ill or even worse, kill them,” worries Dr. Kischlat.

The organization is dependent upon anti-counterfeiting detection specialists to provide them with technical help in the field. Their doctors buy local drugs and with the help of local pharmacists, test them in order to see if they are genuine. Currently they are using a mobile field laboratory that requires no power that can test for medicine authenticity for less than $2.

This is an exciting development which winnows out the most blatantly fake, but it doesn’t adequately screen for drugs with ineffective quantities of the right ingredients. Says Dr. Holzgrabe, “These mini labs are used in Africa, for instance, and it can answer the question on whether you have an active ingredient or not, but you will not find out whether the quality is low or not. Africa needs better quality control of the drugs and it is very difficult because there is not enough money.”

By S. Imber