Malaria drugs sent to Africa being stolen at high rate

A recent study has shown that free malaria drugs sent to Africa by international donors are being stolen and resold on commercial markets.

The study, which will be published soon in the journal Research and Reports in Tropical Medicine, was funded by the Legatum Institute, a U.S. philanthropic group, the Associated Press reports.

From 2007 to 2009, American and British experts randomly bought malaria medicines from 11 private pharmacies in African cities. Of 894 samples, 58 were found to have been supposedly donated to government hospitals and clinics, according to the report.

This was particularly true for artemesinin combination drugs, which are among the best for treatment of malaria, the AP reports. In 2007, it was found that 15 percent of the donated drug had been stolen for resale. This year, it was found that nearly 30 percent had been stolen.

Tido von Schoen-Angerer, a director at Medecins Sans Frontieres, which works across Africa, told the AP that it is very hard to determine the scope of the problem because the drugs aren’t typically tracked from their origin to their ultimate destination in Africa.

“The study is important because it clearly documents something that we need to study the issue more closely,” Von Schoen-Angerer told the AP.

A 2009 U.S. President's Malaria Initiative audit also showed that approximately $640,000 worth of medicines sent to Angola vanished from airports and the government's medicine warehouse.

Lead researcher Roger Bate, a fellow at American Enterprise Institute, told the Associated Press that his researchers primarily focused on the most popular artemesinin combination malaria drug, Coartem, made by Novartis AG.

Bate said Novartis makes two versions of the drug for Africa. The donated packets come in a flat white packet while the one for commercial markets is sold in an orange and white box.

Bate told the Associated Press that his researchers found donated drugs originally meant for Nigeria on sale in Kenya. Bate said the drugs were marked with "Not for Sale" stamped on them and packaged in the wrong local language, which suggests they were stolen from aid deliveries.