Malaria is a mosquito borne infectious disease which affects humans. Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever and headaches which in severe cases can progress to coma or death. It is mostly found in areas around the equator. With the help of western science, drugs like Coartem have been developed for Malaria treatment. To assist this fight, most of this medication is provided to African nations subsidized in order to be effective. With medication, progress was being made in controlling Malaria in addition to spraying for mosquitos.
Recently, when customs officials in Luanda, Angola, searched a cargo container from China, they found something hidden inside a shipment of loudspeakers: 1.4 million packets of counterfeit Coartem. This was one of the largest seizures of phony medicines ever. The counterfeits seized in Luanda contained none of the active ingredient in real Coartem (artemether/lumefantrine). It contained calcium phosphates, fatty acids and yellow pigments and was enough to treat more than half the country’s annual malaria cases.
In another seizure last year, Nigeria’s pharmaceutical enforcement agency, confiscated 40 cartons of fake Coartem packets stored at a consumer-electronics shop in Lagos. Counterfeit Coartem has also been found and seized in Guangzhou, China itself. In February 2012, the Chinese police and the Chinese Food and Drug Administration seized 600 boxes of fake packets of the drug enough to treat 18,000 patients.
Counterfeits Hurting Malaria Treatment
Over the past decade, annual deaths from malaria in Africa have been significantly reduced but counterfeiting threatens to reverse all the gains. The subsidized medication is not enough to keep counterfeits off the market. The black market demand is huge for a product that most know is fake, looks real and has all the trademarks but too cheap to resist.
The fake Coartem found in Luanda, Lagos and Guangzhou appeared to be manufactured specifically for African market. The counterfeits all carried the logo of Nigeria’s medicines regulator, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control — which is used as a stamp of approval for authentic Coartem throughout the continent. At what point do the African governments step in to protect its citizens and provide better care?