Background: Perhaps no greater challenge exists for public health, patient safety, and shared global health security, than fake/falsified/fraudulent, poor quality unregulated drugs, also commonly known as "counterfeit medicines", now endemic in the global drug supply chain. Counterfeit medicines are prevalent everywhere, from traditional healthcare settings to unregulated sectors, including the Internet. These dangerous medicines are expanding in both therapeutic and geographic scope, threatening patient lives, leading to antimicrobial resistance, and profiting criminal actors.
Discussion: Despite clear global public health threats, surveillance for counterfeit medicines remains extremely limited, with available data pointing to an increasing global criminal trade that has yet to be addressed appropriately. Efforts by a variety of public and private sector entities, national governments, and international organizations have made inroads in combating this illicit trade, but are stymied by ineffectual governance and divergent interests. Specifically, recent efforts by the World Health Organization, the primary international public health agency, have failed to adequately incorporate the broad array of stakeholders necessary to combat the problem. This has left the task of combating counterfeit medicines to other organizations such as UN Office of Drugs and Crime and Interpol in order to fill this policy gap.
Summary: To address the current failure of the international community to mobilize against the worldwide counterfeit medicines threat, we recommend the establishment of an enhanced global health governance trilateral mechanism between WHO, UNODC, and Interpol to leverage the respective strengths and resources of these organizations. This would allow these critical organizations, already engaged in the fight against counterfeit medicines, to focus on and coordinate their respective domains of transnational crime prevention, public health, and law enforcement field operations. Specifically, by forming a global partnership that focuses on combating the transnational criminal and patient safety elements of this pre-eminent global health problem, there can be progress against counterfeit drugs and their purveyors.