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ObjectiveGood quality cardiovascular medicines and devices are crucial in the prevention and management of the ever-growing threats of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) globally. Yet our current understanding of the extent and impact of substandard and falsified (SF) cardiovascular medical products is poor. Our objective was to review the available literature on SF cardiovascular medicines/devices, with a focus on prevalence studies to discuss their impacts on public health.MethodsSearches were conducted in Embase, PubMed, Web of Science, Google Scholar, Google and websites with interest in medicines/devices quality up to 31 August 2020. Articles in English and French identified in these searches were screened for eligibility. The Medicine Quality Assessment Reporting Guidelines was used to assess the quality of prevalence surveys, and we report according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses statement.ResultsA total of 279 articles were included, which were subcategorised into prevalence surveys (n=28), equivalence studies (n=118), stability studies (n=5), routine quality control analyses (n=15), bioavailability studies (n=2), recalls/seizures/case reports (n=77), general discussions (n=24) and reviews (n=10). A failure frequency (defined as the proportion of samples that failed at least one quality test described in the report) of 525 (15.4%) was observed for the 3414 samples tested for quality in the 27 prevalence surveys with sufficient information for inclusion in our quantitative analysis. Nineteen surveys (70.4%) used convenience outlet sampling. The majority (88.8%, 3032/3414) of samples included in prevalence surveys were collected from low-income and middle-income countries. The most common defects were out-of-specification active ingredient(s) content, impurity/contaminant content and impaired dissolution. We found 26 incidents describing SF cardiovascular devices with 181 related deaths but no prevalence surveys.ConclusionThe data suggest that SF cardiovascular products are likely to be a serious public health problem that has received limited attention. We do not suggest that 15.4% of cardiovascular medicines are SF, and our findings highlight the need for more research with robust methodology to provide more accurate prevalence estimates in order to inform policy and implement measures to ensure the quality of cardiovascular medicines and devices within the supply chain. Ensuring that CVD medical products are of good quality would help ensure effectiveness and that the benefits of therapy are realised in the prevention and treatment of CVDs.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Global Health



Publication Date





e006523 - e006523