Fake Drugs Invade the Middle East: A Glut of Fake Pharmaceuticals Have Found Their Way into Middle East Markets but These Useless Products Are Costing More Than Money, They Are Costing Lives

Article excerpt

WAR CORRUPTION AND LAWLESSNESS in principal markets of the Middle East have created a hotbed for thriving trade in counterfeit, dangerous and often lethal pharmaceuticals supplying an authoritatively estimated, catastrophic 35% of all drug sales across the region.

Some great ports of the Middle East are being used as illegal trade hubs serving the global commerce in such products worth perhaps $30bn a year, according to World Bank estimates. The trade and health authorities have been unable to arrest the trend in the absence of a global treaty.

But help is on the way. The United Nations is seeking international accord to confront the criminals. The International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) has intensified its collaborative raids and investigations. The scientific community has developed some reliable, quick and inexpensive techniques to identify fakes. Prototypes of robust new life-saving equipment based on new technologies are already at work in the Arab World.

The illegal trade in counterfeit and substandard drugs enriching a wide range of traders and manufacturers as well as terrorist organisations has thoroughly infiltrated most pharmaceutical markets of the Middle East, according to an authoritative new study published in Washington. The fakes look like proper pharmaceuticals, but their expensive, life-saving active ingredients are missing--replaced by cheap, ineffective and sometimes even lethal alternatives.

Such adulterated products disseminated across the Middle East, including essential heart and cancer medications and antibiotics, undermine the usefulness and reliability of all medical services there. Worldwide, the number of lives claimed by the fakes is counted in hundreds of thousands.

Syria, Lebanon and Egypt have emerged as the regional focal points of this criminal enterprise, with tentacles extending to Iraq, Iran, Turkey and beyond, concludes Roger Bate, resident scholar at the influential American Enterprise Institute, following an exhaustive, six-year investigation.

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A report published by the institute--The Deadly World of Falsified and Substandard Medicines--observes that the proliferation of fake drugs has deprived the Syrian insurgents seeking to topple the regime of Bashar Assad of the means to treat their battlefield wounded.

Syrias two-year old war civil war has so far cost more than 70,000 lives, according to UN estimates. The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) fears the deteriorating medical services may spawn major disease outbreaks. This was a contributing factor to a decision just announced by the United States and its European allies to provide medical, administrative and other non-lethal assistance to the insurgents.

Most of the counterfeit and frequently contaminated drugs consumed in the Middle East originate from India and China. But Assad's ally Hizbullah, the Lebanon-based organisation implicated in major terrorist murder investigations in Europe and the Americas, has become a substantial source of fakes, according to recently released court documents. Its source of countraband on sale in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and elsewere is believed to be a hub of drug laboratories operating in the Beqaa Valley.

A strategic component of the drive to rid the world of counterfeit drugs was initiated at a recent regional conference in Dubai. …