GAiA Co-Director Terry Fisher participated in a conference organized jointly by the Brazzaville Foundation, Harvard Global Health Institute, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to discuss the issue of substandard and falsified (S&F) medicines on March 28, 2018.

35 international experts and practitioners contributed to the successful conference in an effort to further refine current research agenda and policies that are translatable into actions to resolve the problem of S&F medicines. Among the attendees were academics and researchers from Harvard, Oxford, LSHTM, representatives from the WHO, the Council of Europe, the British and French Health ministries, leading NGOs, including the Institute for Research against Counterfeit Medicines and the Chirac Foundation, and specialists from Africa and the Middle East.

The objective of the conference was to identify the key challenges in reducing and ultimately, eliminating substandard and falsified (S&F) medicines and to generate innovative solutions. Fisher, along with four other speakers from advocacy group and technology firms, discussed the driving strategies for improvement with a focus on the private sector. The discussion further comprised, inter alia, existing innovative new solutions developed by the private sector, the role of the private sector in fighting S&F medicines, and efforts to alert consumers of S&F medicines at the local level.

Fisher also presented the implementation of a field detection technology, miniature spectrometer, to fight S&F medicines that is currently deployed as part of the larger technical assistance project undertaken by GAiA in sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration with Global Good. It is envisioned that a network of countries will be able to share data on S&F medicines more efficiently through the implementation of the technology in order to enhance the integrity of regional distribution and supply chains.

The outcome of the conference suggested a new global priority on tackling S&F medicines given the threat the issue is imposing on global public health, especially in many low-income countries. The issue will further undermine the goals of providing Universal Health Care (UHC), which is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, if no action is taken to ensure access to safe, effective medicines to the most affected populations.

Among the issues discussed were current scale of the problem, policy and regulatory solutions, criminal involvement regarding S&F medicines, innovative technologies for rapid detection, the impact of S&F medicines on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and future research focus.

The key conclusions were:

  • More research and data collection are required to better understand the complexity of substandard and falsified medicines as well as their social implications.
  • Engagement from all stakeholders including government is critical.
  • The Council of Europe’s Medicrime Convention provides a model for the introduction of a criminal legal framework and must get worldwide buy in to be effective. So far only 12 countries have ratified the Convention.
  • The use of innovative technologies in the rapid detection of substandard and falsified medicines should be encouraged as an important part of the solution.
  • A vigorous and effective global surveillance system is essential to understand the full dimensions of the problem. We need to find new ways to harness field data and ensure systematic reporting.

Read more about the conference here.

Medicines that Lie: A Deadly Public Health Crisis at the Wellcome Trust, London