Combating Counterfeit Drugs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Access to good quality drugs is a serious problem across the South. The International Narcotics Control Board estimates that up to 15 per cent of all drugs sold around the world are fake or counterfeit, and in parts of Africa and Asia this figure jumps to 50 per cent. The US Food and Drug Administration estimates counterfeit drugs make up 10 per cent of the global medicine market. The US Centre for Medicines in the Public Interest predicts counterfeit drug sales will reach US $75 billion globally in 2010, an increase of more than 90 per cent from 2005.

Fake drugs are a major cause of unnecessary death and destroy public confidence in medicines and health services. While counterfeit drugs have been on the rise, there is little co-ordinated or effective action to counter this menace afflicted on the sick.

But in Ghana, a solution has emerged that shows a way to guarantee that quality drugs get to the sick who need them. CareShop Ghana uses the franchise model – where licenses are sold to approved vendors who adhere to strict guidelines – to ensure that the quality, accessibility and affordability of essential medicines in and around Accra is guaranteed. CareShop has made deals with close to 300 franchisee pharmacies – often modest operations – who sell over-the-counter drugs.

In Ghana, preventable and curable illnesses like malaria and diarrhoeal diseases are among the leading causes of death. Their treatment pushes many people to financial despair; they can ill afford the extra burden of worrying about counterfeit drugs and the harm they do. Like many countries in the South, Ghana’s public healthcare system is unable to meet these needs and so most people turn to the private sector for help.

An estimated 65 per cent of people turn to licensed pharmacies. But many of these operate haphazard businesses, dispensing expired or counterfeit drugs.

The Ghana Social Marketing Foundation Enterprises Limited (GSMFEL) founded CareShop in 2002, hoping to battle common infectious diseases in poor areas by making sure good drugs get through to the sick.

GSMFEL makes a small profit as the franchisor by selling high-quality drugs to the franchisees. The key to CareShop’s success is imposing standardization on franchisees, so they have to stick to common diagnosis, quality and pricing. They make more money when they adhere to these rules than when they break them. To ensure there is no tampering with the drugs, they are delivered straight to the vendor’s doorsteps, and it is all backed up with health and business training support and branded materials.

The tide can be turned around on fake drugs: in 2002, the WHO reported that 70 per cent of drugs in Nigeria were fake or substandard: by 2004 that figure had fallen to 48 per cent.

Stimulating private sector solutions to African healthcare problems is now receiving an additional boost from a new fund established by the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation. Launched in 2007, it offers cash and loans totalling US $500 million to commercial healthcare projects in Africa. According to its own statistics, 60 per cent of health expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa is privately funded, and the market, excluding South Africa, is worth US $19 billion.


  • is a website offering the latest reports on fake medicines and is a good place to report incidences.
  • A paper on the global threat of counterfeit drugs: Click here.

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