Fake Medicine from China Threatening Lives in Africa

We’ve been hearing about Asia’s desire for African ivory, and how it is decimating the African population of elephants and rhinoceros, whose body parts are in high demand in parts of Asia for use in traditional medicine. In the case of rhinos, the number of these animals killed for their horns (worth some $600,000) has risen from about 20 a year to an expected 600 this year.

This lethal trade in animal parts, shipped from the African continent to several Asian countries, and most notably China, is now being matched by an even more deadly trade, moving in the opposite direction: Asian counterfeiters are sending fake drugs to several African countries. Many of the pills have few or no active ingredients at all.

From the Pulitzer Center writing about Tanzania:

The life-saving medicine arrives on cargo trucks and in suitcases, crossing borders to be put on sale in pharmacies, shops and hospitals. There is just one problem: it isn’t life-saving at all.

To look at the packaging, you would never know. It is usually a dead ringer for the real thing. Only on closer inspection will you find a watermark missing or notice the crumbling edges of a tablet that to well-trained inspectors can be the telltale signs of fakery. Even health professionals are routinely fooled.

According to The Guardian, the influx of these fake drugs from Asia, and especially China, is leading to a health crisis in some African countries, with the treatment of malaria being particularly at risk.

It’s hard to estimate exactly how widespread it is, but a recent study by the Fogarty Institute found that around a third of malaria drugs available in Uganda and Tanzania were falsified, susbstandard or degraded. Most of these were believed to originate in China, with a smaller number coming from India.

Specifically, here’s what the Fogarty researchers found:

Multicountry surveys from seven Southeast Asian countries included data on 1,437 samples of malaria drugs. About one third failed chemical analysis, nearly half were not correctly packaged and 36 percent were fakes. Similar surveys from 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa provided data on 2,634 malaria drug samples. Of these, more than one third failed on the basis of chemical analysis and about 20 percent were found to be fakes. Only Burkina Faso provided data on packaging analysis, with about a 35 percent failure rate.

Sadly, most of the world’s 655,000 to 1.2 million deaths from malaria each year are preventable, but only if patients receive authentic drugs in appropriate dosages and get them early enough.

As reported in The Guardian, Laurie Garett, senior fellow for global health at the US Council on Foreign Relations, said:

“Nobody has a head count or a body count on numbers of Africans that have died as a result. But China’s role certainly has been dreadful.”

It’s not just about people dying; there are also serious concerns about drug resistance building in east Africa.

Imagine being a mother, possibly traveling miles to bring your child sick with malaria to get a life-saving vaccination, only to be presented with a counterfeit, useless medicine.

It’s hard to imagine a more egregious situation.

There’s also the damage to the reputation of global aid organizations, which every year spend millions on various medicines to help people in poorer countries.

The World Health Organization does have anti-counterfeiting and medicines quality assurance programs, but they need the backing of tight collaborations between governments and a very strong regulatory authority. As yet, none of those components are in place, which means that unscrupulous counterfeiters, apparently not concerned that they are harming sick people, continue making huge profits.

And African countries lose out yet again.

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Photo Credit: Gates Foundation


Darryll Green
Darryll Green6 years ago

hell, their sending them here, why don't we hear anything about that

Sheri D.
Sheri D6 years ago


Laura Roberts

Pretty low greedy ones involved. Such injustice!

Deanna C.
Deanna C6 years ago

I will never understand how people could put greed above life.

Lydia Price

They will be held accountable for the blood of all these innocent victims. There is nothing in this world worth the selling of your soul. This life is so incredibly short even under the best of circumstances. Anyone who doesn't have the fear of God in them...should have.

Ro H.
Ro H6 years ago

criminal practices

darla h.
darla h6 years ago

China stinks and they need to fall down on their knees! I think they are nothing but killing,abusing machines.I think most are mentally handicapped or without a heart.Whoever is responsiable for all this pain and suffering and destroying,needs to be weeded out and cast aside,like garbage.Throw the heartless humans in a pit,give them taste of own medicine for years,maybe they will see the light for first time.Greed causes a lot of pain and suffering. They need to be held responsiable somehow for all the dead or at least from here and out,start logging and investigating,make these killers accountable!

Sandra L.
Sandra liapis6 years ago


Linda Jarsky
Linda Jarsky6 years ago

Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted as saying, “Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

Jan van Leeuwen
Jan van Leeuwen6 years ago

Let us not forget that China is a country with a totalitarian system. This means comparable to the former ghadafi-regime, the former hussein-regime and some more like that.
It is unbelievable how many "businesses" pretend to be unknowing idiots when doing business with China. I try to avoid chinese products, but here in europe that has become almost impossible.
"Made in germany" seems something from the past, that is a shame.