The trade in counterfeit drugs is a lucrative and dangerous global industry, but there are hopes that on-the-spot screening technology can provide a remedy

Sometimes the vials are filled with dirty water. Occasionally they contain saline and a tiny amount of antibiotic, so as not to infect the site of the vaccination and draw attention to its true ingredients. But however good or bad the disguise, the fact is that these “vaccines” will actually have no effect at all.

The recent news that another batch of fake meningitis vaccine had been discovered in Niger is just the most recent incidence of a particularly dangerous and cruel criminal racket. As many as 1,500 cases have been reported to a surveillance database launched by the World Health Organization in 2013, and that’s probably an underestimate, says Mick Deats, head of the substandard and falsified medicines group at WHO.

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