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W.H.O. Urges Action to Stop Counterfeit Medicines

I'm Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English Health Report.

The World Health Organization says more effort is needed to stop the trade in counterfeit medicines. The United Nations health agency says countries must work together to fight the growing threat from drugs that are not what they seem.

W.H.O. officials discussed the problem during a recent high-level meeting in Rome. Delegates at the conference included representatives of government agencies, consumer groups and the drug industry.

Counterfeit medicines trick people into believing they are taking something that will make them well. Instead, it might make them sicker or even kill them.

The World Health Organization says counterfeit drugs are part of a wider problem of low-quality medicines. But it says the difference is that they are purposely misidentified. Some contain no active substances. Some contain dangerous substances. Counterfeit drugs can also add to the problem of drug resistance.

The World Health Organization says counterfeit medicines are present in all countries. They are thought to represent ten percent of drug sales worldwide.

A group in the United States estimates that profits from counterfeit drug sales will reach seventy-five thousand million dollars by two thousand ten. The Center for Medicines in the Public Interest estimated the profits last year at almost forty thousand million dollars.

Criminals often target high-demand drug such as antibiotics, malaria drugs and painkillers. Also, with recent fears about bird flu, there have been reports of counterfeiting of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Experts say the counterfeit drug problem is worst in developing countries.

W.H.O. officials say identifying counterfeit medicines is getting more difficult. Criminals are improving their methods. Representatives at the meeting in Rome agreed to create an international expert group. Among its duties, the new group will try to strengthen national laws and establish better systems to identify counterfeit drugs.

Counterfeit medicines are often sold on the Internet. But the Internet can also be used to fight the problem. Last year, the W.H.O. set up a Web-based system to gather reports on what it calls "drug cheats" in the western Pacific area. It says this system should be expanded to all areas.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Read and hear our reports at I’m Faith Lapidus.