Africa’s attempts to combat malaria on the continent could be undermined by low quality or counterfeit drugs according to a new research study. The research, published in Malaria Journal [gated] looked at seven collections of suspiciously packaged malaria drugs in eleven African countries or preparing for shipment to Africa. The project found the presence of a variety of both counterfeit or sub-standard (containing low levels of antimalarials) drugs.

The existence of counterfeit and substandard drugs in Africa is a significant threat to anti-malaria efforts on the continent. First, recipients of bad anti-malarials face prolonged illness and death if the drugs they acquire (often at great personal expense) are not real. The drugs can also cause misdiagnosis if health workers assume that the drugs were ineffective for some reason other than being counterfeit or substandard. Second, low quality drugs with sub-therapeutic amounts of anti-malarial increase the likelihood of breeding drug resistance in malaria, creating a public health threat extending far beyond the patient.

The researchers were careful to state that because they actively sought out suspicious looking malaria drug packaging, nothing in their paper can be used to determine the overall prevalence of counterfeit or low-quality malaria drugs in Africa. Weak pharmaceutical governance in many countries has hampered efforts to determine how large a problem is counterfeit or sub-quality drugs. What we do know is where the counterfeit drugs came from. Analysis of the pollen founded in the samples allowed the researchers to track the drugs to eastern Asia.

The research makes clear the need for improved international drug regulation, particularly of pharmaceutical manufacturers in China, to help track the extent of the problem from counterfeit and substandard anti-malaria drugs and protect against them.

Photo Credit: Kosheahan

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