malarial drugsA third of all malaria drugs used across the globe could be fakes. Researchers checked 1,500 samples of seven different drugs in seven different South East Asian countries say that that poor quality and fake tablets are causing drug resistance and treatment failure. Data from 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa including over 2,500 drug samples showed similar results.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases report is a ‘wake-up call’. The US researchers from the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health who carried out the work believe the problem may even be graver than the data suggests. They say that most cases of fake drugs aren’t even reported.

Till now no large studies to test drug quality have been conducted in either India or China. These two countries alone hold one-third of the world population and are a ‘probable’ source of counterfeit drugs. Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry in India over the alleged nexus between big pharmas, doctors and drug inspectors which led to many drugs being approved without any proper clinical trials

Ironically, India is the world’s largest producer of generic drugs and with the recent compulsory licensing verdict the number of generic drugs produced are surely going to shoot up.

Lead researcher Gaurvika Nayyar stressed that 3.3 billion people were at risk of malaria, which is classified as endemic in 106 countries. ”Between 655,000 and 1.2 million people die every year from Plasmodium falciparum infection,” he said.”Much of this morbidity and mortality could be avoided if drugs available to patients were efficacious, high quality, and used correctly.”

Self-prescription is another problem according to the researchers and leads to drug resistance among other grave ills. The study also found that there aren’t enough faculties to deal with the disease or properly test the malaria drugs in most nations where the disease is endemic. And there is a lack of regulatory oversight of manufacturing and little punitive action for counterfeiters.

Despite this, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25% globally since 2000 and by 33% in the WHO African Region. But the World Health Organization says maintaining current rates of progress will not be enough to meet global targets for malaria control. It is calling for renewed investment in diagnostic testing, treatment, and surveillance for malaria. 

Malaria: All you need to know