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Fake, Substandard Malaria Drugs Threatening Gains Made In Fight Against Disease, NIH Study Warns

“Low-quality and fake anti-malarial drugs flooding into markets in Asia and Africa are driving drug resistance and threatening gains made in the fight against the disease in the past decade, according to a study” conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published Monday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, Reuters reports (Kelland, 5/21). In an analysis of “27 sets of tests of antimalarial drugs purchased in Southeast Asia and Africa between 1999 and 2010,” “[a]bout a third of the drug samples from both continents failed,” the New York Times writes, noting, “Some were clearly criminal counterfeits, some were expired drugs that had been repackaged and some were poorly made with too little active ingredient” (McNeil, 5/21).

“Fake drugs with no malaria-fighting agents can lead to deaths when patients rely on them, and those containing some active ingredients — but not enough to fully kill all parasites — are also problematic because they promote resistance [in the parasite] that can eventually outsmart medicines and render them useless,” the Associated Press writes (Mason, 5/22). “The U.S. researchers from the Fogarty International Center at the [NIH] who carried out the work believe the problem may even be much greater than data suggests,” BBC News reports, adding, “‘Most cases are probably unreported, reported to the wrong agencies, or kept confidential by pharmaceutical companies,’ say the researchers” (Roberts, 5/21). “‘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,’ said Joel Breman” of the NIH, Agence France-Presse writes (5/22).

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