Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Alarm raised over fake malaria drugs distributed in Africa

Batswana should be on the lookout for counterfeit anti-malaria drugs that are being distributed throughout Africa to the extent that the lives of millions of people could be endangered, Wellcome Report, based on the work of the Wellcome Trust-Mahosot Hospital-Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration, has revealed.

The report has revealed that low quality derivations of reputable anti-malarial drugs are being distributed throughout the African continent. The drugs are of such poor quality that there is an additional risk that some of the circulating drugs could actually encourage malarial drug reissuance. Other types of drugs could have side-effects for the person who takes them.

The Wellcome Report, based on the work of the Wellcome Trust-Mahosot Hospital-Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration, was published in the Malaria Journal, and is the result of nine-years of study and analysis. The report concludes that “criminals are producing diverse harmful anti-malarial counterfeits with important public health consequences”.

Researchers from Mahosot Hospital and the Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration examined substandard and fake anti-malaria drugs that were discovered on sale in 11 African countries from 2002 to 2010. Some counterfeits included the wrong pharmaceutical ingredients, which could alleviate symptoms but not cure the disease. Other ingredients could lead to potentially serious side effects.

The report, written by Dr Paul Newton, the lead researcher on the study, has shown that a number of the fake drugs either had the wrong ingredients or the wrong proportions. Most malaria drugs contain a substance called artemisinin (derived from a plant that originates in China, commonly known as sweet wormwood.) The drugs had traces of artemisinin in them: enough to pass a routine anti-counterfeit test but not enough of the active ingredient to be medically effective.

Last week, the BBC reported that most of the fake tablets originated in China (which has come from an analysis of the drugs which contain pollen unique to certain parts of Asia). In addition, some production facilities for packaging materials for counterfeit antimalarials have recently been seized in Nigeria.

As it stands, it is a significant international scandal in relation to fake medicines. The report calls for urgent action by African governments to stop the propagation of these fake anti-malarials.

“Failure to take action will put at risk the lives of millions of people, particularly children and pregnant women,” Paul Newton said.

When reached for comment, Setshwano Mokgweetsinyana, Acting Director, Department of Public Heath, said they were not aware of that report and would only be in a position to issue a comment after seeing the journal.

As The Journal recounts, Malaria is a parasite which is spread by mosquitoes and causes around 800,000 deaths per year. Africa is particularly affected by malaria, where the infant mortality rate is high from the disease.


Read this week's paper