If malaria is a curable disease with effective treatment, why does it still kill so many?
The rise of counterfeit drugs
Our research on the pharmaceutical industry has revealed that one reason for malaria’s continued virulence in the developing world is ineffective medicine. In fact, in some poor African countries, many malaria drugs are actually expired, substandard or fake.
In 2012, a research team from the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that about one-third of anti-malarial medicines distributed in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were of poor quality. A few years prior, fully 44 percent of anti-malarial supplies in Senegal had failed quality control tests.
For as long as effective medicines have existed, people have produced fake versions. That’s because counterfeiting pharmaceutical drugs is profitable business for manufacturers. This illegal activity is most common in places with little government oversight and limited access to safe, affordable and high-quality medicines.
It’s a good racket: Public officials in the developing countries where these medicines are distributed typically struggle to detect and investigate the crime – much less prosecute it – due to lack of funding and regulatory restrictions.
Imitating good malaria drugs
Generally, fake malaria drugs imitate one of two types of common antimalarial medicines: quinines and artemisinin.
Anti-malarial drugs distributed in the developing world may also be substandard. Such drugs are produced by legitimate manufacturers but are not compliant with World Health Organization standards. Frequently, they are short on artemisinin, the key active ingredient.
Such medicines, which may be produced deliberately or unintentionally, do not prevent malaria in the individuals who take them. Worse yet, they can lead the malarial parasite to develop drug resistance, a significant danger for everyone who lives in a place affected by malaria.
Ineffective malaria treatments – whether fake, substandard or degraded – are also expensive for consumers and national health care systems.
Patients who unwittingly purchase ineffective anti-malarial drugs are out of pocket for medicines that do nothing. Then, they pay for additional treatments when the first course of medicine fails.
According to the World Health Organization, repeated medical treatments due to ineffective drugs is estimated to cost to sub-Saharan African patients and health care providers as a whole about $38.5 million annually.
The Conversation Africa The Conversation Africa is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. Its aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues, and allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation. Go to: https://theconversation.com/africa
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