Fake Malaria Drugs Boosting Resistance in Southeast Asia, Experts Warn

Nuth Tith, 54, a Cambodian drug inspector, checks for illegal or fake drugs at a pharmacy near the Thai-Cambodian border. One of the main causes of drug resistant malaria is the inappropriate use of anti-malarial drugs. Photo by: Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

Tighter regulation measures and a new research focus on fixed-dose combination malaria drugs are needed to prevent the proliferation of counterfeit and poor quality malaria medication in developing countries, U.S. experts have said.

“Drug resistance to the most effective drug available, artemisinin-based combination therapy, is developing and has been recognized in southeast Asia,” Regina Rabinovich, director of infectious diseases at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said at a Dec. 5 hearing of the Africa, global health and human rights subcommittee of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute added resistance to malaria has been observed along the Cambodian, Thai and Myanmar borders. Research has shown approximately half of poor quality malaria drugs contain artemisin “so they are directly contributing to resistance,” he added, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Simply getting the medical regulatory authorities to control what is on the market for anti malarials I think is important,” Bate said, explaining that a key feature of the problem is that the drugs are not illegal in the affected countries.

Another possible approach to the problem is to develop new combination malaria medications that have a fixed dose, the House subcommittee heard.

“The goal now going forward is the new drugs we develop need to be made as fixed dose combinations immediately, and never be sold or available as single entities,” said Dennis Schmatz, president of Medicines for Malaria Venture North America.

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  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.