At the Medicines Quality Control and Surveillance Department of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, medicines are tested to confirm their quality and ensure that those being dispensed by doctors and pharmacists perform as expected. Photo by: Rebecca Root / Devex

KINGSTON, Jamaica — According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 10 medical products on the market in lower-income countries are substandard or falsified. The prevalence of these products tends to be higher in countries where regulation is inadequate and technical capacity to enforce quality standards is limited.

“[Prior to 2017], the state of regulatory systems in the non-Latin Caribbean region was showing that on indicators of basic regulatory capacity, the Caribbean was achieving 39% while the other subregions in the Americas were all at 90% or above,” said Charles Preston, adviser of regulatory system strengthening for medicines and other health technologies at the Pan American Health Organization.

Substandard medicines are unlikely to treat patients effectively and — if there is an insufficient active ingredient — can lead to prolonged illness and even antimicrobial resistance. The lack of strong regulatory systems that ensure rigorous oversight could be responsible.

But with such small populations, there often are not enough people to staff an operation, Preston said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for example, has 15,000 employees, while a state like Montserrat has a population of only 5,000 people.

If “the bigger the better” is an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to supply lifesaving medicines to a population, one solution is to create a common market.

Enter the Caribbean Regulatory System.

Continue reading the full multimedia feature story on a new regional system of regulation that is harnessing the collective power of collaboration to push poor-quality medicines out of the Caribbean.

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