The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued an urgent warning on counterfeit supplies of semaglutides, essential drugs for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity, in many countries.

The move is in response to reports from the WHO’s Global Surveillance and Monitoring System (GSMS) that since 2022, there has been an alarming rise in the number of forged semaglutide products in certain regions.

The alert focuses on three counterfeited batches of semaglutide, marketed under the brand Ozempic, discovered in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States between October and December 2023.

This is the first official announcement from WHO following the confirmation of these instances.

The urgency of the situation was emphasized by Dr. Yukiko Nakatani, who serves as the Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products at the WHO.

“WHO advises healthcare professionals, regulatory authorities and the public be aware of these falsified batches of medicines,” said Dr Yukiko Nakatani, WHO Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products. “We call on stakeholders to stop any usage of suspicious medicines and report to relevant authorities,” Nakatani stated.

Semaglutides play a vital part in the management of type 2 diabetes because they reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications and lower blood sugar levels.

The appetite-suppressing effects of these substances are also contributing to an increase in the number of prescriptions for weight loss.

Despite the fact that these medications are effective, the WHO pointed out that they are not included in its recommended treatments due to the high cost of these medications, which creates difficulties for widespread accessibility in public health programs.

The falsification of semaglutide products also poses significant health risks because counterfeit versions may lack essential active ingredients, leading to uncontrolled blood sugar levels or unexpected side effects from undisclosed components, such as insulin.

This underscores the critical need for stringent verification of medication sources and adherence to prescribed usage guidelines.

In response to these developments, WHO is developing rapid advice guidelines on the potential use of GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), including semaglutides, for treating obesity and enhancing comprehensive care models.

For individuals using semaglutides, WHO advises purchasing medications only from licensed healthcare providers, avoiding online or unverified sources. Patients should verify packaging integrity, expiry dates, and proper storage conditions, particularly for injectable forms that require refrigeration.

“To protect themselves from falsified medicines and their harmful effects, patients who are using these products can take actions such as buying medicines with prescriptions from licensed physicians and avoid buying medicines from unfamiliar or unverified sources, such as those that may be found online,” WHO said.