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Study finds one-third of malaria drugs 'fake'

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More than one-third of malaria drugs used around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, are either fake or bad quality, a new study has claimed.

"These findings are a wake-up call demanding a series of interventions to better define and eliminate both criminal production and poor manufacturing of antimalarial drugs," Joel Breman, of the Fogarty International Center at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), said on Tuesday.

"The economic incentives for criminals of drug falsification surpass the risks involved in their production and sale," stated the study, which was published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

Using surveys and publications, researchers found that in seven Southeast Asian countries, 36 per cent of 1,437 samples, from five categories of medications, were counterfeit.

Thirty per cent of the samples failed a test of their pharmaceutical ingredients.

In 21 Sub-Saharan nations, 20 per cent of more than 2,500 samples tested in six drug classes turned out to be falsified, while 35 per cent were below pharmaceutical norms.

Killer disease

Malaria killed 655,000 people in 2010, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nation's health body.

Currently, the disease kills an estimated 2,000 children each day in Africa, while some 3.3 billion people worldwide are at risk of getting infected.

According to the WHO, approximately 200,000 malaria-related global deaths could be prevented by clamping down on the production of counterfeit medications.

Many of the drugs that are being faked or poorly manufactured are artemisin derivatives, the study said.

Alarm has sounded in recent years over signs of increasing resistance in western Cambodia on Thailand's border with Myanmar among artemisinin-based drugs, the only effective medicine now widely used to cure the disease.

The study says there are many causes for the problem, ranging from widespread self-prescription of drugs to shoddy controls to monitor drug quality and prosecute counterfeiters.

"Poor-quality anti-malarial drugs are very likely to jeopardise the unprecedented progress and investments in control and elimination of malaria made in the past decade," said Breman.


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