Fight The Fakes

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Stories from the Front Line

Fighting Fake Medicines: Where Technology meets Social Justice

Muhammad Hamid Zaman |

Fighting Fake Medicines: Where Technology meets Social Justice
Kalman Zabarsky for Boston University Photography

My name is Muhammad Hamid Zaman and I am a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University.

I grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan. There were plenty of stories about counterfeit and fake medicines all around me. It was, unfortunately, accepted as one of the many problems that were part of our national fabric. I was among the fortunate ones who was never affected at a personal level, but there were plenty of people around us who had suffered, some with life-changing consequences. With poverty, corruption and lack of accountability, there was ample news but never a coordinated national campaign to address the problem.

Drug quality was an issue that had always been at the back of my mind. For me, it was not an issue of technology and innovation, but was an issue of social justice and equity. It was not until the winter of 2011/2012 that it all changed. In the worst public health crisis in the history of Pakistan, nearly 200 people died in just one week at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore (which was my father’s hometown). The cause: administration of a substandard drug. Those who were affected were largely from low-income families and completely dependent on the public sector for their drugs. This incident was a turning point for me.

At that time, one of my research areas had been development of new technologies to address global public health problems. The goals were broad and general. The incident in Lahore changed everything. I learned that anywhere from 30-50% of the drugs in developing countries may be compromised. The incident in Lahore and plenty of other places provided me a focal point to integrate my background in chemistry, my experience in biomedical engineering and my passion for global equity, justice and welfare into solving the problem.

Over the last few years, with the help of outstanding students and research scientists, partners in the public, non-governmental and the private sector, we have been working on developing a technological platform that is affordable, easy to use, quantitative, comprehensive, portable and scalable. Our technology, PharmaChk, is currently being developed and has received enormous enthusiasm from multiple stake-holders around the world. Scientific American recently named it one of the top 10 technologies that will change the world.

My aim is to save the lives of the most vulnerable. What keeps me up at night is the passion to ensure that no one suffers because of a poor quality drug, regardless of age, gender, economic situation or location. PharmaChk aims to save lives by testing for both substandard and counterfeit drugs and does so while keeping the local economic, social and cultural constraints in mind. Our approach is to work with local and global partners, in and outside the technological sphere, and to do our bit in making the world a safer and a better place.


Using PharmaChk to screen for poor quality and fake medicines

Using PharmaChk to screen for poor quality and fake medicines

Professor Zaman will join Fight the Fakes partners at the African Regulatory Conference, April 27-29, to open the Fight the Fakes reception in Dakar.

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On internet sites that conceal their physical address 50% of the drugs are #fakemeds

2011: European Customs retained 27.5 million #fakemeds

#fakemeds are 10% to 30% of global medicine: less than 1% in some countries, +30% in parts of Africa Asia & Latin America

700,000 people die because of #fakemeds to treat #malaria & #TB each year

In 2013, Operation #Biyela seized 550 million doses of illicit medicine in #Africa

Poisons found in #fakemeds include mercury, rat poison, boric acid, paint & antifreeze

#fakemeds could be up to 15% of medicines in circulation worldwide

More than 50% of medicine sold worldwide from illegal online sources are #fakemeds

Criminals trafficking #fakemeds make profits 10x more than those trafficking illicit drugs

Up to 30% of medicines in developing countries are #fakemeds

Of the 1mil deaths per year due to #malaria, 200,000 could be avoided if patients weren't treated with #fakemeds

30% of countries have little or no regulation to effectively combat #fakemeds

Decades of fighting #malaria could be put at risk by #fakemeds on the market

#Fakemeds seized in Le Havre in May 2013 were hidden in sachets of tea

India may have as much as 12-25% of their supply contaminated with substandard and #fakemeds

Every therapeutic class of pharmaceutical product has been the subject of #counterfeiting

Up to 40% of the drug supply of some countries in Africa could be #fakemeds

.@INTERPO_HQ L Operation #PangeaVI seized 9.8 million illegal & counterfeit drugs #fakemeds

20% of all #malaria deaths worldwide can be directly associated with the use of #fakemeds

1 medicine in 2 purchased on internet sites that conceal their physical address is a #fakemed

#DidYouKnow? 96% of online pharmacies operate illegally

#DidYouKnow? Possession of #fakemeds is illegal, not just production or sale

#Fakemeds: 32% have no active ingredients, 40% have incorrect ingredients & dose, 8.5% contain dangerous contaminants

From antibiotics to pain relievers, more than 500 versions of fake #pharmaceutical products are circulating #fakemeds

123 countries are impacted by #fakemeds

.@UNODC estimates the market value of fake #antimalarials at over US$400mil in west Africa alone

In 2013 US authorities published warning of fake #diabetes meds—ineffective & dangerous for patients

1 out of 4 counterfeit products intercepted by EU customs in 2011 were #fakemeds

NIH 2012 study of 7 countries in southeast Asia reveals that 36% of #antimalarials are #fakemeds

36% of #anti-malarial drugs in #SoutheastAsia are #fakemeds

In the US only 4% of online pharmacies appear to be in compliance with pharmacy laws & practice standards

In 2013 1.2 million sachets of #fakemeds were seized in Le Havre, France. The biggest seizure in the #EU

60% of all spam offers medicine- its an inexpensive way for #counterfeiters to target you with #fakemeds.

#Fakemeds can contain no active ingredients at all – a direct threat to patients that need treatment

Both branded and generic products are subject to counterfeiting

#Fakemeds seized during #Biyela? Antibiotics, painkillers, meds for high blood pressure & diabetes