Nearly half a million people are estimated to be killed by counterfeit medicines in sub-Saharan Africa every year, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Of these, 267,000 deaths are believed to be linked to falsified or substandard antimalarial medicines, while a further 169,271 are linked to falsified or substandard antibiotics for severe pneumonia in children.
Statista’s Anna Fleck reports that, according to the 2023 report ‘Trafficking in Medical Products in the Sahel’, while it is difficult to gauge the overall quantities of medical products that are being trafficked, various studies indicate that the share of medical products that are falsified and substandard hits between the 19-50 percent mark. Between 2017 and 2021, at least 605 tons of different medical products were seized in West Africa during international operations in the region.
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The Sahel countries – listed in this report as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and the Niger – rely on imports of medical products due to their own pharmaceutical industries being in the earlier stages of development. The counterfeit drugs are thought to predominantly come from both pharmaceutical exporters such as Belgium, France, China and India, which have been diverted from the legal supply chain, or else to be manufactured in neighboring countries.
The report highlights how factors such as limited access to quality, safe, effective and affordable medical products as well as a lack of border controls are among some of the main reasons for the high figures, as well as poor traceability of medical products and weak legislation.
Counterfeit drugs include those that have been sold without having been approved, cleared or licensed, may have passed their expiry date, or may not contain the necessary active ingredients.
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