Poorly Produced Medicines Pose Danger to Developing Countries

July 6, 2011

Patients in emerging markets want greater access to medicines, but supplying medicines cheaply is proving problematic.  Part of the difficulty is the proliferation of illegal counterfeits in the poorest markets.  Yet new research shows that substandard medicines -- those legally but poorly produced -- pose an equally dangerous threat to patients, say Roger Bate and Julissa Milligan of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Internationally traded generic drugs, most commonly from India, have flooded emerging markets.
  • A recent push to help low-income nations develop their own production capabilities has matured, and countries like Thailand, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria are now manufacturing their own medicines.
  • Supported by many international donors, they argue that domestic production of pharmaceuticals will decrease transport costs, provide local jobs, increase expertise and cut dependence on foreign suppliers.

With the help of Africa Fighting Malaria and the Legatum Institute, Bate and Milligan tested the quality of the medicines bought in emerging markets.  They found that more than 4 percent of just under 2,000 legal samples failed basic quality tests.

  • The failure rates for drugs produced by large Indian manufacturers and all American and European companies were under 1 percent.
  • Meanwhile, African manufacturers performed worst, yielding 8.3 percent failures overall, followed by Chinese, Vietnamese and small Indian producers.
  • In emerging markets, domestically made products were far more likely to fail than imported products.

It is clear that the well-regulated states produce drugs of much higher quality than those with less stringent standards.  This association probably explains much of the rest of the data in other poor locations, but these locations have not been analyzed in enough detail to be sure, say Bate and Milligan.

Source: Roger Bate and Julissa Milligan, "Legal But Deadly," American Enterprise Institute, June 30, 2011.

For text:

http://www.american.com/archive/2011/june/legal-but-deadly

 

Browse more articles on Health Issues