Expert insight

Fighting Fake Medicines is Everybody’s Business

26 November 2013
  • Eduardo Pisani

In my capacity as IFPMA Director General, I have an interesting vantage point of how the various global health groups in Geneva and beyond – international organizations, NGOs, national governmental missions and industry – collectively tackle a range of global health issues. Collective action has led to important progress on HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, neglected tropical diseases as well as vaccine-preventable diseases like polio. There are also advances being made in so called non-communicable diseases through coordinated action by the global health community at large.

One area that could benefit greatly from collective action – in fact, success depends on it – is fake medicines. I sense a growing determination among my global health colleagues in Geneva and around the world to do more to address the low awareness of this crime – and it is a crime against patients and society at large! Until there is adequate attention and action on the prevention, and on the creation and strict application of legislative and regulatory frameworks, we won’t be able to combat effectively this global threat.

While nobody should try to scare people, I think it is important to share exactly what fake medicines are and how they can harm people and why we must act. Fake medicines are deceitful products that either contain the wrong ingredients, the wrong dose, no active ingredients at all or even dangerous substances. Believe it or not, many police raids have discovered fakes that contained rat poisons and other harmful ingredients. The best case scenario for someone taking a fake medicine is no cure at all. However things can also turn more tragic. For malaria and tuberculosis alone, it is estimated that every year 700,000 people die because they take fake medicines[1]. This is outrageous.

The impact of fake medicines is also systemic. Fakes containing low levels of antimalarials or antibiotics stop short of fully fighting infections and can lead to drug resistant bugs. This places entire communities at greater risk. Also fakes can undermine confidence in the healthcare system. If patients wonder whether their pharmacies and their medicines are trustworthy, they may avoid seeking care in the first place. That is why we need to make people aware of the problem and help them take steps to avoid becoming victims of fake medicines.

As the developers of legitimate medicines, the research-based pharmaceutical industry has a role to play with others in stopping the crime, but stopping this global threat will, not surprisingly, take collective action.

I am proud to share that IFPMA, on behalf of our industry, has joined the Fight the Fakes campaign. Launched today by ten global health organizations representing healthcare professionals, research institutes, disease-specific organizations, product-development partnerships, global health and financing institutions as well as the industry, Fight the Fakes will create a global movement of organizations and individuals to speak up and spread the word about the under-reported but growing threat of fake medicines. I encourage you all to visit and follow the campaign on Twitter (@FightTheFakes).

It is up to all of us – working together – to make the voices of those who have suffered from fake medicines or who are engaged in the fight against fake medicines heard around the world.

[1] International Policy Network.


  • Eduardo Pisani