In South-East Asia, an increasing number of people are lured into buying fake medicines, not knowing that these cheaper 'look alike' drugs often do not work. Investigations have shown that drug counterfeiting — the making of drugs that either have no active ingredients or have the wrong ones — is rising, but the number of deaths it causes is still largely unknown.
Scientists and health officials are working to raise awareness among local doctors and patients about the problem. Experts hope to discuss possible solutions next week in Paris, France at the Second Global Forum on Pharmaceutical Anticounterfeiting.
In this article in Nature, Peter Aldhous says that the lack of official response, high costs of drug testing, shortage of qualified staff, unlicensed outlets and corruption are all factors that encourage drug counterfeiting. He adds that if the problem is to be tackled at its source, efforts should start in China where most of the drugs are made.
But there is hope. A 'minilab' project, for instance, involving a portable kit for drug testing, offers a cheap method of identifying counterfeits.