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HEALTH REPORT - Taking Care With Medicines

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I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Recently VOA's reporters have explored some of the issues facing health care systems around the world. Today we talk about three separate issues with one thing in common: they all involve medicines.

Real and counterfeit bottles of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. Could you tell the difference? (The real ones are on top.)
Real and counterfeit bottles of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor. Could you tell the difference? (The real ones are on top.)

One problem is counterfeit medicines. These can be difficult even for highly trained medical professionals to identify. Counterfeit drugs are made to look and feel like the real medicines whose names they are sold under. But they do little or no good, and in some cases might be harmful. Patients also miss the chance to take the real medicines.

The World Health Organization says an estimated ten percent of the drugs sold worldwide are counterfeit. In developing countries, however, twenty-five percent or more of the medicines taken are believed to be counterfeit.

It is difficult to identify who makes these drugs or where. But many experts believe criminals in India and China are involved. The W.H.O. has created a group to better enforce the safety and quality of medicines in developing countries.

One way that drug makers show government agencies that new medicines are safe and effective is through human trials. Yet these can sometimes present great risks to the people involved.

Recently, six men in London came close to dying during tests of an experimental drug. They developed severe reactions within minutes of being injected with a drug for leukemia and other diseases.

The American drug research company Parexel International says the reaction was unusual and rare. The British government has formed a committee to consider stronger rules for human drug trials.

Public interest groups argue that many drug companies take too many risks in testing new medicines. Yet the safety and effectiveness of any drug can also depend on how it is used.

Disease-causing organisms can become resistant to drugs, especially if the medicines are not taken correctly. The W.H.O. has warned of such a threat to what is now the most effective drug for malaria.

The agency is trying to pressure drug companies only to sell artemisinin in combination with other malaria drugs. Experts say taking it alone will only speed up the development of resistance. Some companies have agreed to stop selling it alone, but others have not.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jill Moss. Read and listen to our reports at www.unsv.com And to learn about other health care issues, listen Tuesday at this time for SCIENCE IN THE NEWS. I'm Steve Ember.

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