A time bomb has recently been unearthed in China. An international team coordinated by INTERPOL has discovered a huge trade in counterfeit malaria drugs: 240,000 packs of counterfeit artesunate have been sold across Asia. And experts fear an outbreak of pharmacoresistance in the region.
Tracing the supply chain is no easy matter. Investigators have literally “tracked” counterfeit malaria drugs across the whole of south-east Asia. As a result, some 391 samples of artesunate have been collected and undergone laboratory analysis.
The results show that the “majority of counterfeit medicines did not contain artesunate”, states Dr Paul Newton of Oxford in the United Kingdom. In other words, these products did not contain any active principle… and therefore had no therapeutic effect! On the plus side of this scandalous practice, the danger of seeing resistant strains develop is nil as the active principle is missing from the product.
But using it is tantamount to administering a placebo to malaria sufferers whose lives may be at risk! Furthermore, a number of samples contained traces of potentially toxic residues.
But above all, it is the discovery of minute quantities of artesunate that is worrying researchers. A number of tablets contained very small doses of the substance. Just enough to develop resistance to the treatment. And at present artesunate is the best available drug to combat chemoresistant malaria… The last weapon in the armoury in fact. And if it becomes tainted, it will rob medicine of the only treatment still effective against the most severe form of malaria!