A third of anti-malaria drugs on the market are fake or of poor quality, threatening to increase resistance to life-saving medicine, new research has found.
The worrying findings, published in the The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Tuesday indicate that around 42% of antimalarial drugs in South East Asia are fake, while a third of the samples from sub-Saharan Africa contain extremely low levels of the active ingredient, which could potentially increase resistance to the drug.
The research relates to drugs containing Artemisinin, a front line treatment on the war against the disease and described by the Lancet as "the most effective treatment against malaria."
Although significant strides have been made in the fight against malaria using Artemisinin, the current findings pose a risk to the elimination of the disease, according to experts.
The latest research confirm what appears to be a distressing trend, with findings published in April indicating that resistance to Artemisinin was increasing.
The current levels of resistance could just be the tip of the iceberg, warned Dr Gaurvika Nayyar, lead researcher from Fogarty International Centre at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
"The issue is much greater than it seems because most cases are probably unreported, reported to the wrong agencies, or kept confidential by pharmaceutical companies” said Nayyar.
However though the findings should be viewed as "a wake up call", Nayyar said that "much of this morbidity and mortality could be avoided if drugs available to patients were efficacious, high quality, and used correctly”.
Researchers analysed 1,500 samples of drugs from south east Asia and 2,500 from seven sub-Saharan Africa countries. These are the areas where most people contract malaria and die from the disease.
Although malaria mortality rates have markedly decreased since 2000, the report suggests that a medical regulatory bodies in Africa are needed to encourage countries to 'own' the problem.
“Currently, only three of the 47 malarious countries in Africa have laboratories that are equipped to chemically analyse antimalarial drugs” said Nayyar.