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Warning issued over fake malaria drugs

Researchers say that counterfeit or substandard drugs found in 11 African countries could help parasites develop a resistance to treatment.

Image: AP Photo/USDA/PA File

SCIENTISTS HAVE ISSUED warning over the distribution of fake malaria drugs, saying that they are putting potentially millions of lives in at risk in Africa.

The BBC reports that a study published in the Malaria Journal says that these drugs were unlikely to satisfactorily fight malaria but could help parasites build up a resistance against treatment.

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust-Mahosot Hospital-Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration warn that “criminals are producing diverse harmful anti-malarial counterfeits with important public health consequences.”

The study (available here as a pdf) says that counterfeit or substandard anti-malarial drugs would “engender drug resistance” and that this was a serious health concern.

The researchers said they had collected samples of “suspicious quality” anti-malarial drugs on sale in 11 African countries between 2002 and 2010 and from drugs en route from Asia to Africa. They also said their data does not estimate the frequency of such drugs in Africa.

Malaria is spread through mosquito bites and its symptoms include fever, headaches and vomiting. The disease disrupts the blood flow between the heart and vital organs, according to the World Health Organisation. Although treatable, some malarial parasites have developed resistance to a number of drugs used to treat the disease.

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Around 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010, with over 90 per cent of the deaths occurring in the WHO’s African region. Overall, almost nine out of ten malaria victims in 2010 were children under five.

The latest WHO world malaria report found that malaria mortality had dropped by over a quarter around the world and by a third in Africa between 2010 and 2011.

Africa is particularly afflicted by malaria: one in every five childhood deaths in Africa is malaria-related.

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