Drug quality is currently receiving growing international attention. Over the past decade, public awareness has been sharpened with the existence of counterfeit and substandard medicines especially in developing countries where drug regulations remain ineffective. Mass media through television, radio and online have been hyped with thousands of reviews revolving around the topics of fraud medicines, the methods used and strategies being done to take down the people behind it.
Just as it gets tiring hearing it, another alarming issue prevailed on the news. Although different types of pharmaceutical products are being involved, the existing data shows that certain anti-infectious agents, particularly anti-microbial medicines, are the most counterfeited products in developing countries. The largest in the list of distributors are Jakarta, Indonesia and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. China still takes the lead on the biggest manufacturer.
Although the existence of the issue is acknowledged, the real numbers and the extent of the problem are not well documented. Estimates of global prevalence may range between 1% and 50% globally. The few existing studies which conduct experiments to determine the quality of drugs circulating different regions and investigations to know the amount of foreign substances in the medicines are headed by either the pharmaceutical companies who rarely share the result of the studies for the protection of their products or by non-profit organizations funded by few private entities and individuals. The Peterson Group, one of the NGOs conducting one of the studies, states that these studies are critical to measure the real issue but with the lack of resources and half-hearted attention given by the government, results are expected to lag behind. It may be too late to solve an issue before another one comes in.
Anti-microbial drugs are targeted because of its popularity among the people. It is used to treat infections and almost all ailment can be infected which makes it an even more dangerous drugs. Even as FDA, UN and WHO have already released a warning on the dangers of these medicines especially ‘old’ antibiotics such as penicillin, trimethoprim–sulfamethoxazole and chloramphenicol, are among the favored counterfeited antimicrobials.
The poor quality of drugs has been linked to counterfeiting of medicines, chemical instability especially in tropical climates, and poor quality control during manufacture. Many factors contribute to the increased prevalence of substandard and counterfeit medications. Much of the counterfeit drug trade is probably linked to organized crime, corruption, the narcotics trade, the business interests of unscrupulous politicians and unregulated pharmaceutical companies.