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Developing countries must be given better access to the information that they need to monitor the safety and quality of medicines, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"We must strengthen safety monitoring activities of medicines at a global level," Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, executive director for Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals at the WHO, said at a meeting of the WHO Programme for International Drug Monitoring held this week in Amsterdam.

Asamoa-Baah told delegates that lower-income countries "must be allowed to benefit from the sophisticated monitoring systems that already exist in industrialised nations."

In particular, he said, developing nations could benefit from access to the WHO's vigilance system — run by the Uppsala Monitoring Centre (UMC) in Sweden — which pools data from 68 member countries and alerts national regulatory authorities of potentially dangerous drug reactions. Only four sub-Saharan African countries are currently members of the UMC.

Adverse reactions to medicines are a significant cause of hospital admissions and death in developed countries, even though national monitoring systems are in place. As well as lacking such systems, many developing countries face additional issues surrounding the growing presence of sub-standard or counterfeit drugs, or the introduction of traditional herbal medicines into government-backed health programmes.

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