Counterfeit medicine from Asia threatens lives in Africa

From Global development | The Guardian Sun Dec 23 2012, 11:33:44

Malaria is one of the diseases affected by unscrupulous traders in fake and substandard drugs

International health experts are warning of a mounting health crisis in parts of Africa because of an influx of counterfeit medicine from Asia that is playing havoc with the treatment of diseases such as malaria. Porous borders in Africa coupled with indifferent oversight in China are combining to turn the continent and its pressing health problems into a free-for-all for maverick manufacturers, some of whom are producing pills with no active ingredients at all.

Precise data is hard to track down because of the informal nature of African health systems. But several recent studies warn that as many as one-third of malaria drugs in Uganda and Tanzania are fake or substandard, with most believed to originate in China or India.

Apart from the lives lost, there are additional concerns about drug resistance building in east Africa, experts say. "It's a crisis any time someone dies," Nick White, who chairs the Wellcome Trust's south-east Asia major overseas programmes and the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network (Wwarn). "It's a massive problem that people have simply ignored. It's not like a boil that's beginning to burst because it's been a problem for a long time. What has happened is we are beginning to recognise it more."

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