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Fake Medicines Pose Global Danger

The World Bank and other groups say about 40 percent of the drugs in parts of Africa and South America are either counterfeit or of poor quality. Experts say the use of such medicines can lead to treatment failure and even death. Experts working to stop this counterfeit drug traffic met recently in Washington. Louise Shelley heads the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University in Virginia.

LOUISE SHELLEY: "We're focusing much more on narcotics trafficking rather than on counterfeits that can do harm to many more individuals than consuming of illicit drugs." She says only an organized international effort can deal with this kind of organized crime. LOUISE SHELLEY: "I think WHO, I think the law enforcement community, I think consumer organizations, civil society everybody has a role in demanding greater quality control."

DR. MARGARET HAMBURG: "You have no assurance of the safety, efficacy or quality of those products." Margaret Hamburg heads the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA controls the safety of drugs and food products in the United States. Recently, the FDA took action against thousands of Internet businesses selling illegal medical products. Dr. Patrick Lukulay is with the United States Pharmacopeia, an organization that sets quality controls for medicines. He says there must be an international effort.

DR. PATRICK LUKULAY: "In the US, 80 percent of active ingredients come from either China or India into the US, so US companies are vulnerable."

ANDREAS SEITER: "In India you have about 10,000 manufacturing companies so although the Indian regulators are making investments it's difficult to catch up." Industry expert Andreas Seiter says many countries need to strengthen their rules. The World Health Organization's Michael Bates says many health experts do not understand the problem.

MICHAEL BATES: "This is a complex international trade. And we need greater information on the scale and the scope, and the harm and the economic damage that is being done by this issue to convince those policy makers to commit resources to tackle it." I'm Christopher Cruise.