More than a third of anti-malarial drugs in SE Asia fake, finds study
May 24, 2012
A new American study has found that fake malaria drugs are threatening the gains made in the fight against the deadly disease.
Researchers at the US National Institute of Health have found that more than one third of the anti-malarial drugs in Southeast Asia are fake and that a third of samples in sub-Saharan Africa don't contain the right ingredients.
Correspondent: Lindy Kerin
Speakers: James Bleeson, Burnet Institute's Centre for Immunology in Melbourne; Dr Deb Mills, travel medicine industry expert
LINDY KERIN: Anti-malarial drugs are the first line of defence, but now a new study has raised serious concerns about a growing number of counterfeit drugs on the market.
Researchers from the US Institute of Health have found fake and ineffective drugs are flooding the markets in Asia and Africa, where malaria is a major problem.
JAMES BEESON: It's deeply concerning and it's a problem that's been going on for a number of years, or been recognised now for a number of years.
That's Professor James Beeson, from the Burnet Institute's Centre for Immunology in Melbourne. He says the extent of the problem is alarming.
JAMES BEESON: In some smaller studies, they've found that a lot of the anti-malarials weren't actually - didn't have the right active ingredients or had too little active ingredients.
So yeah look, unfortunately it doesn't come as a huge surprise, but that sort of level, you know - a third of drugs being counterfeit or, you know, incorrectly formulated is really, really concerning.
LINDY KERIN: The last World Malaria report found more than 200 million people were infected with the disease and that it killed an estimated 655,000 people.
Experts are concerned the number of fake and ineffective drugs could help encourage drug resistance.
JAMES BEESON: Over a period of time of using drugs, eventually the organism, bacteria malaria in this case, can become resistant to it - it evolves to develop resistance, so the drugs stop becoming effective.
So one of the things that contributes to this drug resistance developing or speeds it up is using drugs that are not - don't have enough drug in them, using tablets for example, that don't have enough drug in them or have the wrong mixture of drugs.
And so these fake anti-malarial tablets that are on the market are contributing to this global problem of anti-malarial resistance that is an ongoing challenge, you know, across the globe for malaria control.
LINDY KERIN: It's a concern shared by Dr Deb Mills who's worked in the travel medicine industry for two decades. She's particularly worried about the emergence of resistance to artemisinin - one of the most effective treatments.
DEB MILLS: There was a drug that was brought out by the Chinese called ching-hao-su, and it was developed into a drug called artemisinin, and it was the shining light, it was the only pill that would work in some areas and now the resistance is building to that as well so we're all a bit worried.
LINDY KERIN: Professor Beeson says there are a number of measures that could be taken to combat the problem.
JAMES BEESON: A number of efforts across the globe in terms of regulation, you know, investigations, police activity and so on. One of the things is to get appropriate penal consequences for these manufacturers of fake anti-malarials.
It's a very serious issue and I think that's happening at the international level. But there's some interesting things happening at a more local or regional level, and so just for example there's one scheme where anti-malarials are tagged with a particular code and the person who buys that anti-malarial can send a text on their mobile, a free text and get confirmation that the drug they've just bought is actually genuine.
LINDY KERIN: The research from the US Institute of Health is in the Lancet Infection Diseases Journal.