Tests Show 1 in 4 Malaria Drugs Sold in Provinces Is Fake

Laboratory tests on malaria drugs sold in four western prov­inces showed that one out of four customers at retail outlets receive a medicine different from what is paid for.

Besides having wasted money, this customer could die if the individual’s malaria gets worse and he or she only has useless drugs to treat it, said Reiko Tsuyuoka, malaria control scientist with the World Health Organization.

Even if the product contains traces of the correct ingredients, a lower-than-acceptable amount will only make it more difficult to treat that patient with proper medicine afterward since the low-dosage product will trigger resistance to malaria drugs in the patient, Tsuyuoka said.

The National Malaria Center, in cooperation with the WHO, screened seven drugs collected at retailers in Battambang, Pursat and Preah Vihear provinces and in Pailin municipality, said Lon Chan Thap, a clinical tropical medicine specialist at the malaria center.

The drugs screened were quinine, artesunate, mefloquine, chloroquine, tetracycline, ate­meth­er and DHA, which stands for dihydroartemisinin.

A total of 183 samples were submitted to a TLC, or thin layer chromatography, and will be retested for confirmation by US Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit organization that analyzes and issues reports on drug quality, he said.

Preliminary results revealed that 16 percent of the drugs contained the wrong active ingredient; nearly 4 percent had a lower-than-acceptable level of that ingredient; and more than 7 percent contained no active ingredient at all.

Only quinine in injection form was the right product.

One way for the Malaria Center to fight this is through public education campaigns on the disease, its symptoms and appropriate treatment. Various NGOs are working with the center on education programs in the field and the center runs television ads on the topic.

These fake products are sold throughout Southeast Asia in such a sophisticated way that it is almost impossible to determine what is real medicine, said Chroeng Sokhan, vice director of the Department of Food and Drug at the Ministry of Health. “They used holograms to make sure they look the same,” he said.

In some cases, retailers don’t know that some products they are selling are fake, Lon Chan Thap said. But illegal, unlicensed outlets are another matter, Chroeng Sokhan said.

There are about 2,400 illegal outlets throughout the country and, unless there is political will and strong support from various government agencies, it will not be possible to eliminate them, he said.

He added that the department has prepared court cases against five of them a year ago, but the cases still have not gone to trial.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Health is developing a strategy to fight fake drugs in the country with technical help from WHO, Chroeng Sokhan said.


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