Counterfeit and Poor Quality Drugs

What Are They?

Counterfeit (fake) antimalarial or other drugs are deliberately made to look like brand name drugs. However, they may have no active ingredients, they may have less than the required amount of active ingredient, or they may contain ingredients which are not what is described on the package label. Counterfeiters tend to focus on the more expensive brands. Substandard drugs are found even among cheaper products, because some manufacturers try to avoid costly quality control and good manufacturing practices.

The quality of commercially available drugs varies greatly in malaria-endemic countries:

  • The amount of the active ingredient can vary due to lack of regulations and poor quality control practices in many of these countries.
  • Some pills may release very little if any drug due to poor formulation techniques.
  • Chemical break-down of some drugs can occur due to poor storage conditions, especially in warm and humid tropical climates.
  • Some drugs may be contaminated with other substances.
  • Counterfeiters may also obtain expired drugs and repackage them with new expiration dates.
Where Do You Find Them?

Worldwide prevalence of counterfeit and substandard products is summarized in a Drug Quality Report matrix by the U.S. Pharmacopeia Drug Quality and Information (USP DQI) ProgramExternal. Information on domestic (U.S.) issues regarding counterfeit and poor-quality drugsExternal is provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

When Buying Drugs, Take the Following Precautions

  • Travelers should buy in their home country all the medicines they will need before their trip.
  • Travelers should write down the drug’s generic and brand names as well as the name of the manufacturer. In case they run out, they can look for the correct product.
  • Make sure that the drug is in its original packaging.
  • Inspect the packaging because many times poor quality printing indicates a counterfeited product.
  • Be suspicious of tablets that have a peculiar odor, taste, or color, or that are extremely brittle.

Page last reviewed: July 23, 2018