I have spent the better part of the last ten years working on the issues of the illicit economy and its actors. While there is a consensus that illicit activity is approximately the size of a G 7 country and that it poses an existential threat to many countries however there is no consensus on what to do about it. Yet if those countries and regions most affected want to meet basic levels of governance let alone the sustainable development goals we need to act – now!
With the scale, scope, and sophistication of the illicit economy, it would be a mistake to try and tackle this all at once. The Meta-Council at the World Economic Forum that I had the privilege to lead agreed that solutions required a multi-stakeholder, sectoral and systems approach.
Counterfeit pharmaceuticals should be one such area. Many countries are not going to meet their SDG of “achieving high-quality health systems” or protect their citizens while millions are being affected by the scourge of fake drugs. Some examples;
- The value of the counterfeit drug market annually: $200 billion. (https://healthresearchfunding.org/20-shocking-counterfeit-drugs-statistics/)
- 700’000 deaths a year are caused by fake anti-malaria and tuberculosis drugs (International Policy Network).
- WHO estimates that 1 out of 10 medicines in the world is fake, within certain African countries it is estimated that 7 out of 10 medicines are fake.
- 1/3 of all malaria medicines sold in Africa are fake. (http://www.fakedrugskill.org)
- In 2012, of 1437 samples of drugs in five classes from seven countries in southeast Asia, 497 (35%) failed chemical analysis, 423 (46%) of 919 failed packaging analysis, and 450 (36%) of 1260 were classified as falsified. In 21 surveys of drugs from six classes from 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 796 (35%) of 2297 failed chemical analysis, 28 (36%) of 77 failed packaging analysis, and 79 (20%) of 389 were classified as falsified. (The Lancet, Poor-quality antimalarial drugs in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(12)70064-6/fulltext)
There are solutions; I have the privilege of working with the ProVeros foundation that suggests we could significantly impact this problem by;
- Imposing secure traceability on all anti-malaria, tuberculosis and HIV medicines.
- Develop an open and collaborative platform/Gateway (Med-Check), allowing, Doctors, assigned caregivers, National Agencies, Retailers/Pharmacies and Consumers/patients to verify the authenticity of medicines through the platform.
- Serve as an Alert and communication tool for all stakeholders.
The benefits would be;
1) Ensure that all medicines reach their intended patient safely by delivering end-to-end tracing.
2) Reduce infiltration of fake or substandard medicines into the supply chain,
3) Actively protect patients/consumers from counterfeit medicines,
4) A collaborative opportunity to work hand in hand with GAVI, UNICEF and other parties,
5) Become interoperable and complement existing initiatives such as the WHO Rapid Alert System,
6) Encourage inter-country collaboration in the fight against illicit trade of medicines,
7) Allow law enforcement agencies to proactively use Med-Check as a product information and verification tool,
8) Provide the basis/foundation for a global platform for multi-stakeholder product information, verification, and authentication.
9) Spearhead the creation of a community – sharing information, news, and alerts.
10) Actively participate in the fight against counterfeiting and illicit trade, depriving criminal and terrorist networks of the financial resources and political influence acquired from the funds generated through illicit sales.
11) Can assist smaller and local pharma companies by offering them a cost-effective solution built on industry-wide best practices.
We are not suggesting the creation of a new security solution or competition with what already exists but rather a platform to harness all of this information to give healthcare providers and law enforcement a chance to disrupt these criminal networks.
This would not be expensive so why aren’t we doing it?