A United Nations-led task force has warned people against buying medicines from rouge websites as 50 per cent of the drugs sold online may be counterfeit which could promote drug resistant strains of the disease, worsen medical conditions and even kill patients.
It also called for strengthening laws to deal with such online pharmacies to curb the multi-billion dollar market in fake drugs.
The United Nations World Health Organisation along with more than 20 international partners inaugurated the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT) in Bonn, Germany, to seek stricter law enforcement by various countries, stronger regulations and use of technology to rein in fake drug market which in some parts of the world account for 30 per cent of the total market.
"The impact on people's lives behind these figures is devastating," WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals Howard Zucker said.
"Whether rich or poor, many patients trustingly taking medicines may end up sicker or die. In addition, precious resources spent on these medicines go to waste," he said.
Counterfeit medicines, which rake in tens of billions of dollars annually, range from products containing no active ingredients to those with highly toxic substances. The legal systems of most countries do not consider the problem a more serious crime than counterfeiting luxury items such as handbags or watches, WHO said.
National laws are designed more to protect trademarks than people's health and in some industrialized countries, counterfeiting T-shirts receives a harsher punishment than counterfeiting medicines.