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Today is World Malaria Day: medicine fraud may be less than expected

April 25, 2015 - 13:40 -- Ingeborg van Schayk

Poor quality and fake anti-malaria medicines can be deadly and cause a big problem in the fight against malaria. Previous reports indicated that up to 1/3 of the antimalarial medicines could be fake. A recent study of anti-malarials in Tanzania and Cambodia showed no evidence of fake medicines in these countries. So could it be that the problem of fake drugs in Africa is less than expected?

Researchers from the Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) Consortium at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine conducted research in Tanzania and Cambodia. They analysed the quality of 2,028 anti-malarials from these countries in labs in the UK and USA. What they found was a substantial number of poor quality drugs: 31% in Cambodian drugs and 12% in Tanzanian drugs. They did not find any fake drugs. These are the results from 2 countries. There are 4 more countries involved in this study. The results from Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana and Rwanda will be published later this year. The Cambodian [1] and Tanzanian [2] research data have been published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene where you can read the full articles.

The ACT video below explains how the samples were collected and how this differs from previous methods.

So far, the results from Tanzania and Cambodia are good news. In these countries the number of substandard drugs are far less than expected. We would need more research about fake and substandard anti-malarials to confirm these data before any further conclusions can be drawn.

Sub-standard and fake drugs cause a serious threat to the treatment of malaria and contribute to increased resistance against effective treatment. More research, global attention and action are urgently needed. As the ACT Consortium concludes: “one fake drug, is one too many.”

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References

Shunmay Yeung, et al.
Accepted for Publication, Published online April 20, 2015; doi:10.4269/ajtmh.14-0391.
 
ACT Consortium Drug Quality Project Team and the IMPACT2 Study Team
Accepted for Publication, Published online April 20, 2015; doi:10.4269/ajtmh.14-0544