Fake Antimalarial Drugs Endangering Millions, Killing Children and Pregnant Women

Malaria: a preventable disease

Malaria: a preventable disease
by Gates Foundation via Flickr.

The most potent anti-malarial drug has been found in counterfeit version in 11 African countries. On top of not curing patients sick with deadly malaria, the lower doses of the active ingredient artemisinin can cause the parasites to develop resistance to the medication. In essence, the counterfeit drugs are likely to cause a mutation in the parasite, creating a newer, deadlier version of malaria not able to be cured by any known medication.

Time Magazine reports that scientists discovered fake medications circulating in Africa from manufacturers in southern China, which were identified by traces of pollen indigenous to the region found in the malaria medication.

200 million people are infected by malaria annually, which is most deadly to children, who account for the majority of almost 700,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. Artemisinin is the most effective medication for malaria, often used in combination therapies with other drugs in order to effectively kill the plasmodium parasites entirely to keep them from mutating to a new drug resistant form. Artemisinin was originally developed in The Republic of China during the Vietnam War, reports the New York Times.

Scientist Dr. Paul Newton of the Wellcome Trust-Mahosot Hospital-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration reported in Malaria Journal that the fake medications comes from two sources: blatant criminals profiting from others pain and suffering, and substandard manufacturers whose lack of oversight and proper facilities develop medication more dangerous than effective.

Dr. Newton said that particularly children and pregnant women are endangered by the fake medications.

“Malaria can be readily treated with the right drugs of good quality, but poor-quality medicines — as well as increasing mortality and morbidity — risk exacerbating the economic and social impact of malaria on societies that are already poor.

Worse still, they encourage drug resistance, potentially resulting in the failure of artemisinin treatments, with profound consequences for public health in Africa. Failure to take action will put at risk the lives of millions of people, particularly children and pregnant women.”

Counterfeit antimalarial drugs have not just been found in Africa. Reports of counterfeits have been found in South East Asia, East Asia, and even in the Solomon islands, according to Radio New Zealand International.

By S. Imber

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