Some hospital officials are testing their malaria drugs or realizing they were using ineffective products after it was discovered that fake medicine was being sold on the market.
The drugs were being passed off as Mefloquine and Artesunate, two of the most popular malaria treatment drugs in Cambodia. Tests conducted by three separate laboratories showed the drugs did not contain any medication and were placebos.
Since the discovery last week, the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, the National Malaria Center and the European Commission’s malaria control program have been working together to resolve the situation. Officials are publicizing the existence of the fake drugs thorough the media, and the National Malaria Center said it will establish a drug quality surveillance system.
“I think that most malaria drugs that people have are fakes,” said Jan Rozendaal, a malaria adviser for the European Commission.
The Sihanouk Center of Hope discovered last week it had the fake Mefloquine, said Dr Cameron Gifford, medical director at the hospital. Since then, the hospital began using a backup malaria drug that comes from Europe.
“We noticed that a number of our patients treated with malaria drugs were having relapses, so we were already suspecting there were problems,” Gifford said Monday. The hospital was founded by Bernie Krisher, publisher of The Cambodia Daily.
Although Gifford said he had heard that fake Artesunate was available, he wasn’t suspecting the Mefloquine would be ineffective because the product is supposedly made in Australia.
The packaging for the fake Mefloquine claims the products are made by the Australian firm, Gateway Pharmaceuticals, and even bears the company’s logo.
Gateway is a legitimate company that does manufacture Mefloquine, but it sells its product under the brand name Meflam. The company and another independent Australian laboratory tested the fake Mefloquine and confirmed the drugs were placebos, according to a letter by John Brennan, chief analytical chemist for Gateway.
A public health facility in Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey province is testing its Artesunate drugs to make sure they are real, said Wim Vandamme, medical coordinator of Medecins Sans Frontieres, which assists the facility in Anlong Veng.
“Everybody has doubts about everything now,” Vandamme said. “We are trying to explain to everyone to be careful.”
Although there are several other kinds of malaria drugs, the fake Mefloquine and Artesunate are among the cheapest, and therefore are more popular.
Health officials, WHO and the European Commission are also working on prepackaged malaria pills that already come in the correct dosage.
Anyone needing more information about the fake drugs can contact Ngan Chantha, head of administration at the National Malaria Center, at 012-843-628.
Malaria is one of the major causes of death among the adult population in Cambodia. The disease causes about 5,000 deaths per year.