The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Fake medicines and real profits in the pharmaceutics industry

Oct 2, 2006

The production of counterfeit medicine is growing throughout the world. According to figures from 2003, 70% of anti-malarial drugs used in seven African countries were fake. The same was true for more than 10% of drugs sold in Russia. In Vietnam that same year, 64% of anti-malarial medicine did NOT contain the active ingredient.

Such medicines make hundreds of thousands of victims in the poor parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The English medical journal Lancet says counterfeit medicines caused 192,000 deaths just in China alone in 2001.

This production of counterfeit medicines is not some little homemade brew from shady little businesses. These fakes have exactly the same packaging and labeling as legitimate medicines. Sometimes they are simply expired medications no longer sold in the rich countries. Even worse, some of the counterfeiters replace the active drug ingredients with harmful substitutes. And if the active ingredient is still in the drug, it is in a dosage too weak or too old to do what it is supposed to do. In an antibiotic, such medicines no longer help the patient to resist the bacteria they are designed to battle.

Fake medicines exist as a business thanks to the disgusting cost for genuine medicine. When the real medicines are found in poor countries, which is rare, their cost puts them out of reach of any but the rich.

It’s easy to blame officials in underdeveloped countries for turning a blind eye to the problem. But the reality stems from the attitudes of the big pharmaceutical companies. This industry is created to make profits, big ones. In the process, effective medications are priced completely out of the range that poor countries or the poor in rich countries could ever afford to pay.

Thus industry mainly researches and produces where there is a large and profitable market. So millions are spent on researching obesity but almost nothing is spent for malaria.

A recent U.N. journal pointed out that of “1223 medicines synthesized between 1975 and 1997, only 11 were researched for tropical diseases. Of those 11, more than half were for veterinary problems,” that is, useful for the huge agri-businesses that produce in tropical countries.

What a ridiculous waste of resources!