Substandard Medications Threaten the Eradication of Malaria
Health professionals attempting to treat patients with malaria are currently facing another complex obstacle in the developing world: the distribution of substandard, falsified and degraded antimalarial medications.
Drugs classified as substandard are medicines that have insufficient amounts of the necessary active ingredient. In order to effectively kill the bacteria and other harmful organisms thriving inside a malaria patient, the full, prescribed dose of the drug needs to be ingested.
When anything less than the full dose is ingested, these organisms not only continue to survive, but also develop a resistance to the drug entirely. This renders current anti-malaria drugs completely ineffective.
“Poor quality antimalarial drugs are very likely to jeopardize the unprecedented progress and investments in control and elimination of malaria made in the past decade,” according to Fogarty scientist, Gaurvika M.L. Nayyar.
Since the early 2000s, the World Health Organization has recommended artemisinin as the first line of treatment for malaria patients, since “artemisinin and its derivatives are powerful medicines known for their ability to swiftly reduce the number of Plasmodium parasites in the blood of patients with malaria.”
Artemisinin is combined with other supplementary drugs in Artemisinin Combination Therapy treatments in order to effectively assist those diagnosed with malaria. However, these substandard drugs are causing an increase in bacterial resistance to artemisinin treatments, rendering the first line of malaria defense utterly useless.
According to a study done by National Public Radio in 2012, “a third of all anti-malarial drugs taken off the shelf in nonrandom surveys in Africa and Asia were absolutely fake. In about 4,000 samples, there was not a drop of active ingredient there.”
The distribution of these partially active medications has recently been classified as a “global pandemic” affecting the poorest parts of the world, specifically West Africa and Southeast Asia, where drug regulatory systems are weak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “Counterfeiting occurs throughout the world, but it is most common in countries where there are few or no rules about making drugs. An estimated 10 percent to 30 percent of medicines sold in developing countries are counterfeit. In the industrialized world (countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and those in the European Union), estimates suggest that less than one percent of medicines sold are counterfeit.”
On April 20, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene released a special issue, titled “The Global Pandemic of Falsified Medicines: Laboratory and Field Innovations and Policy Perspectives,” which contained a series of 17 papers. Each is written by a different author from a different university or institution, yet all cover the implications surrounding the distribution of substandard medicines throughout the developing world.
According to one of the studies, over 122,350 child deaths were caused by insufficient or partially-active anti-malaria drugs in 2013 alone. This figure represents one-fifth of all deaths caused by malaria.
“These findings are a wake-up call demanding a series of interventions to better define and eliminate both criminal production and poor manufacturing of antimalarial drugs,” Nayyar said.
– Hanna Darroll