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Substandard and counterfeit medicines: a systematic review of the literature

Almuzaini, Tariq; Choonara, Imti; Sammons, Helen


Tariq Almuzaini

Imti Choonara

Helen Sammons


Objective: To explore the evidence available of poor-quality (counterfeit and substandard) medicines in the literature.
Design: Systematic review.
Data sources: Databases used were EMBASE, MEDLINE, PubMed and the International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, including articles published till January 2013.
Eligibility criteria: Prevalence studies containing original data. WHO definitions (1992) used for counterfeit and substandard medicines.
Study appraisal and synthesis: Two reviewers independently scored study methodology against recommendations from the MEDQUARG Checklist. Studies were classified according to the World Bank classification of countries by income.
Data extraction: Data extracted: place of study; type of drugs sampled; sample size; percentage of substandard/counterfeit medicines; formulations included; origin of the drugs; chemical analysis and stated issues of counterfeit/substandard medicines.
Results: 44 prevalence studies were identified, 15 had good methodological quality. They were conducted in 25 different countries; the majority were in low-income countries (11) and/or lower middle-income countries (10). The median prevalence of substandard/counterfeit medicines was 28.5% (range 11–48%). Only two studies differentiated between substandard and counterfeit medicines. Prevalence data were limited to antimicrobial drugs (all 15 studies). 13 studies involved antimalarials, 6 antibiotics and 2 other medications. The majority of studies (93%) contained samples with inadequate amounts of active ingredients. The prevalence of substandard/counterfeit antimicrobials was significantly higher when purchased from unlicensed outlets (p less than 0.000; 95% CI 0.21 to 0.32). No individual data about the prevalence in upper middle-income countries and high-income countries were available.
Limitations: Studies with strong methodology were few. The majority did not differentiate between substandard and counterfeit medicines. Most studies assessed only a single therapeutic class of antimicrobials.
Conclusions: The prevalence of poor-quality antimicrobial medicines is widespread throughout Africa and Asia in lower income countries and lower middle-income countries. The main problem identified was inadequate amounts of the active ingredients.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 17, 2013
Journal BMJ Open
Electronic ISSN 2044-6055
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 8
Article Number e002923
APA6 Citation Almuzaini, T., Choonara, I., & Sammons, H. (2013). Substandard and counterfeit medicines: a systematic review of the literature. BMJ Open, 3(8), doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002923
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