At a time when quality of Indian medicines is being questioned, a WHO agency has found that only 2% of the medical products in Southeast Asia, including India, were substandard or spurious against a global figure of 10.5%.
Effectively, it means medicines and medical products available in India are safer than what is available in American and European markets.
Nearly 10.5% of the samples collected by WHO’s Global Surveillance and Monitoring System for substandard and falsified medical products (GSMS) between 2013-17 failed quality test, says the report released on Tuesday. It defines falsified medical products as those that misrepresent identity, composition or source.
In the past spotlight has largely been on lifestyle medicines such as slimming tablets, the WHO findings show that everything — from cancer medicines to contraception, antibiotics to vaccines — faces a quality problem across the world.
Substandard drugs and vaccines up the risk of several diseases becoming difficult to treat and the world left grappling with antimicrobial resistance, which is a growing concern.
WHO REPORTSSubstandard and falsified products (2013–2017)
Anaesthetics & painkillers: 126
Cancer medicines: 100
Contraception and fertility treatments: 29
Diabetes medicines: 11
Heart medicines: 75
HIV/hepatitis medicines: 43
Lifestyle products: 124
Malaria medicines: 286
Mental health medicines: 45
Percentage of reports from each WHO region
8: Western Pacific
6: Eastern Mediterranean
2: South-East Asia
“There is clear evidence that resistance to the most important antimalarial medicine, artemisinin, first appeared in a part of the world where at one point between 38 and 90% of the artemisinin medicines on the market were substandard or falsified,” says the report.
Nearly 1,500 cases from across the world, including India, were reported to the surveillance team. The magnitude of the problem could be bigger as not all countries reported cases.
The growing global trade in medicines has also opened door to drugs, vaccines and other medical products that do not meet quality standards and are even toxic at times.
Online pharmacies that are fast gaining popularity — in the US alone 19 to 26 million people now buy medicines online — also pose a threat, as it makes it easier to push poor quality drugs into even the best regulated markets.
The pharma sector is doing its bit to ensure safety from fakes.
“Some of the security features we have introduced for our products include bar coding for track and trace, hologram and tamper-proof plastic trays with locking system for pre-filled syringe products,” said Dr Krishna Ella, CMD, Bharat Biotech.
Bar coding and hologram would also help check spurious drugs.
Launched in 2013 by the WHO, the Global Surveillance and Monitoring System aims to improve the quality of medical products and aid in member countries.