Fake Malaria Drugs Emerging in Vulnerable Countries in Africa

Donald G. McNeil Jr. | 13 May 2023
New York Times
Until recently, fake malaria drugs have been a problem largely confined to Southeast Asia, where a sampling two years ago found 53 percent of the drugs substandard, and drug experts said Asia was facing “an epidemic of counterfeits.”

A study released last week suggests that the epidemic is spreading to Africa, where the malaria burden is even greater, and the regulatory agencies are even weaker.

Tests on 195 packs of malaria drugs bought at private pharmacies found that 35 percent either did not contain enough active ingredient or did not dissolve quickly enough to work.

“The results are not happy reading for people taking these drugs,” said Richard Tren, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group that sponsored the tests.

The samples were bought in six cities: Accra, Ghana; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Kampala, Uganda; Kigali, Rwanda; Lagos, Nigeria; and Nairobi, Kenya. The study was published in The Public Library of Science.

Moreover, a third of the packets tested contained just artemisinin, the newest antimalarial from China. Last year, to prevent artemisinin-resistant strains of malaria from developing, the World Health Organization asked all the world’s drug companies to stop selling it except in multidrug cocktails.

Nearly half the drugs that were made in Africa — assuming that their packaging was legitimate — failed the tests. So did a third of those made in Asia. None of the three samples of CoArtem, a multidrug cocktail made in Switzerland for global health agencies, failed.