Where Does Your Medicine Come From?


Drugs and medicine are big business. In 2016, there was a 1.5% global decline in the total value of drug and medicine exports. Even with that drop, the industry’s players exported $318B, making drugs and medicine one of the world’s top industries. But where do all those pills, serums, and creams come from? We wanted to find out. So we dissected the data from 2016 and broke it down by continent, country, and export totals. Then we put it on this map. Check it out.

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Who gets all the medicine money?

For most of the world's population, medicine comes from somewhere else. This is truest among residents of the Southern Hemisphere. As our map reveals, there is a big disparity between the industry's export totals in the north and the south. And I mean big. The Northern Hemisphere exports 55 times more drugs and medicine than the Southern Hemisphere.

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While Europe holds a dominating 79.2% market share, the entirety of Central America, South America, Africa, and Oceania export only 1.8% of the world's drugs and medicine. Africa exports the fewest (0.2%), despite having 15% of the world's population.

In Africa specifically, the disparity feels dubious. Africans are plagued with disease and illness, but have no significant market for drugs and medicine. That means that they need to import them all. Impoverished and dependent on foreign nations for medical support, Africans are in a bad spot.

America’s role in the drug market

In 2016, the U.S. exported drugs and medicine valued at $22.5B. That is more than every other country in the world, except for four:

  • France ($22.8B)
  • Belgium ($26.5B)
  • Switzerland ($39.9B)
  • Germany ($48.6B)

The U.S. eked out the U.K.'s sixth place spot by a mere $500M. In the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. has no rival in drug and medicine exports. Canada comes closest, at $7.4B. Mexico exported $1.2B. No nation in South or Central America has joined the billionaire's club.

Market trends

In Europe, it's obvious that all the cool kids are exporting drugs and medicine.  The concentration of knowledge, training, medical manufacturing, and infrastructure that must cause (and result from) this huge market it makes it unlikely that the Europeans will see their market share disappear to another part of the world. In fact, European countries are still seeing impressive growth. Switzerland and the Netherlands in particular, have seen notable increases.

South Africa and Egypt - two of Africa’s three biggest economies - have developing drug and medicine export economies, but the numbers remain low. While it will probably be these two nations that lead the way in African medical development, they still have a long way to go before they become major players.

Data: Table 1.1

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