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PBS’ Online NewsHour, Lancet Examine Counterfeit Malaria Drugs In Cambodia

PBS’ Online NewsHour examines how “poor-quality and counterfeit malaria drugs” in Cambodia is contributing to a “growing resistance to treatment for the disease near the Thai-Cambodian border.” Fueled by the country’s informal pharmacies that do not have the training to provide the correct drug regimens, people in Cambodia are unknowingly using “improper drugs and fake drugs which create resistance,” said Duong Socheat, director of the nation’s malaria control program. He added that most of the drugs that have been confiscated were traced to China and Thailand. “India is also known to be a large manufacturer of counterfeit and substandard drugs,” writes the NewsHour.

Although there have been some attempts to fight the counterfeit drug industry, they have not been very effective, Roger Bate, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who researches counterfeit drugs, said. “They do not regulate — and cannot regulate — things as well as the U.S. or Europe. It’s not that they don’t want to but they have a massive counterfeit problem and they don’t have the money,” he said. Researchers conducting U.S.-funded resistance trials in Cambodia say patients have brought in a wide range of medications, from monotherapies to “fever packs,” plastic baggies filled with a variety of pills not really intended for malaria, to drugs that appear to be artemisinin-based combination therapies, but may not be the real thing, writes the NewsHour.

The problem is not restricted to Cambodia, counterfeit and substandard drugs of all kinds are a global problem, although its magnitude is difficult to measure, according to the NewsHour. The WHO “estimates that as much as 25 percent of the drugs sold in the developing world are counterfeit. A 2009 report from the International Policy Network found that fake tuberculosis and malaria drugs alone may kill about 700,000 people a year,” the Web site writes. The article also explores how the Affordable Medicines Facility – malaria, known as AMFm, is attempting to deal with the problem of counterfeit malaria drugs (Miller, 7/24).

The Lancet also published a special report that explores the “huge effort” to contain the malaria drug-resistance that is emerging along the Thai-Cambodia border. According to the article, “This is the first time the international community has tried to stop resistance clones from spreading globally. … Such an endeavour is a big task for Cambodia, a country still scarred by the effects of a brutal conflict and genocide, which ranks 136 of 179 in the UN’s Human Development Index” (Samarasekera, 7/25). A related Lancet editorial examines the prospects for eliminating malaria. It calls for political leaders to stick with their committments to combat malaira, including addressing drug-resistance (7/25).

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