What's at stake in the fake?

Indian pharmaceuticals, African markets and global health

Mapping Fake-Talk in Global Health

Christopher Sirrs

In this project, I am asking two fundamental questions. What forms has ‘fake-talk’ taken in global health, and how and why did these concepts gain purchase?

My aim is to create a ‘genealogy’ of ‘fake-talk’ in global health from c.1948, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) was established, to the present. I am not concerned with the origins of concerns of fake drugs. In fact, is striking just how much a concern with origins is a feature of much of the official literature on substandard and falsified medicines. My concern is rather different. That is, given the complexity of the international lexicon around fake drugs, and the substantial evidence gaps for their sources, prevalence, composition and distribution routes, what social, political and cultural functions does discourse around fake drugs in global health serve? In short, how and why have concerns around fake drugs become seen as an existential threat to global health?

My major area of focus is how fake-talk has evolved in WHO and its constituent organs such as the World Health Assembly. I’ll be looking at the interconnected rhetoric of fake-talk in the transnational pharmaceutical industry, represented by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Association (IFPMA) which has regularly consulted with WHO. I’ll also be examining the connections between the evolution of fake-talk in global health and its use by the international policing regime represented by Interpol.

I’ll be drawing upon minutes, reports, correspondence, grey literature and publications in the WHO archives, such as the Essential Drug Monitor and WHO Drug Information; pharmaceutical news bulletins such as SCRIP; and oral history interviews with key figures.