Counterfeit drugs threaten strides against malaria

While it is the discovery of counterfeit Avastin that is drawing the headlines, the vast majority of counterfeit drugs are being pawned off on the poor in undeveloped areas of Asia and Africa. While victims there pay the health cost, there is an indirect cost to developed countries that often underwrite efforts to eradicate disease in the undeveloped world.

The trade in fake anti-malaria drugs has gotten so bad, a recent report found that it threatens decades of strides in treating the disease by creating resistance to the best drugs, Reuters reports. An estimated 650,000 people die from malaria each year and 3 billion are at risk of getting it. Death can be avoided if medications are available, correctly used and are of high quality. But fakes are putting that piece of the treatment puzzle at risk.

A study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases by Gaurvika Nayyar of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health, analyzed 1,437 malaria drug samples from 7 countries in Southeast Asia. It found more than a third failed chemical testing, nearly half were mislabeled and about a third were fakes. Similar results were found in sub-Saharan Africa.

Drug companies also suffer when their products are counterfeited and their brands undermined. There are some early efforts at using cell phones and texts to combat the problem. Merck KGaA and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) are using the system in Africa. They package their products with a scratch-off label that has a unique code. Consumers can send a free text with the code and receive a free return text saying whether the product is genuine. India is considering requiring a similar system there.

- here's the Reuters story