Substandard and falsified medicines are a major threat to public health and responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year – mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Digital, AI-based control systems throughout the supply chain and at end-user level can help to curb the activities of the global counterfeit crime networks.
MEDICINES ARE MADE TO HEAL.
But some are made to steal. Falsified or counterfeited pharmaceuticals put millions of lives at risk, and billions of dollars in the hands of criminal gangs. From sudden death to global pandemic, this issue threatens every single person on our interconnected Earth – physically, psychologically, and financially. The WHO estimates that currently one in ten medical products in low- and middle-in- come countries is substandard or falsified. But their presence in high-income countries is also not negligible. Digital technology is rapidly worsening the problem.
An estimated 50 percent of all medicines purchased over the Internet from illegal sites that conceal their physical addresses are counterfeit.
On the individual level, consuming a substandard or falsified medical product can be lethal. The WHO estimates that, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, counterfeit antibiotics and antimalarials are responsible for the death of 286,000 children each year. In some cases, a patient who believes they are taking a life-saving medication, (e.g., for high blood pressure) may actually be taking a medication where the active ingredient has been diluted or omitted altogether. In other cases, an ingredient may be swapped out for something toxic, causing adverse reactions or death by poisoning.
On the population level, substandard and falsified medicines contribute to the ever-looming threat of a pathogen-based pandemic.The main risk here is the devel-opment of antimicrobial resistance linked to subpotent antibiotics and antimalarials. On the financial level, as the magnitude of the problem grows and falsified and sub- standard medicines continue to circulate, so does the financial burden. For low- and middle-income countries, the WHO estimates an annual financial damage of about $30 billion.
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