Fake Medicine Common in Many Sub-Saharan African Countries

by Mitchell Ogisi

A median of 20% across 17 countries surveyed say they or household members have been victims

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup surveys show counterfeit drugs are widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, where these drugs are often used to treat malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Majorities in 15 of 17 countries Gallup polled in sub-Saharan Africa in 2010 say they are aware of fake medicines in their countries.

Awareness of fake medicine in 17 SSA countries

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines counterfeit medicine as medicines that are "deliberately and fraudulently mislabeled with respect to identity or source." In developing countries, the most prevalent counterfeit drugs are those that treat life-threatening illnesses such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. The WHO estimates fake anti-malaria drugs alone kill 100,000 in Africa a year, and the black market deprives governments of 2.5% to 5% of their revenue.

A median of 70% of adults across the 17 countries surveyed say they are aware of the presence of such drugs, the use of which can result in treatment failure or even death. Awareness varies from a high of 91% in Cameroon to a low of 25% in South Africa.

Median of 20% Report Being a Victim of Fake Medicine

Reported victimization by fake drugs is lower than awareness, but still relatively high in some countries. About one in five adults across the 17 countries surveyed report that they or members of their household have been victims of fake drugs. Percentages vary from a high of 43% in Sierra Leone to a low of 3% in South Africa.

Victim of fake medicine in SSA


Fake medicine presents a major obstacle to the treatment of deadly diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The widespread awareness of these drugs and troubling victimization rates especially in poor countries add to a long list of health and wellbeing challenges in the region. That two of sub-Saharan Africa's wealthier countries -- South Africa and Botswana -- fare much better supports the idea that better healthcare infrastructure and better regulation and enforcement can help to address the problem. Leaders who make improvements in these areas may be able to help prevent the access and use of counterfeit medicine in their countries.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2010 in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. For results based upon the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from a low of ± 3.4 percentage points to a high of ±4 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias in the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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