Fake malaria drugs put Asia at risk

According to U.S. experts, fake or poor quality malaria drugs are increasing resistance to the disease in parts of Southeast Asia and the problem may worsen without tighter regulations.
The experts discussed the issue at a meeting of the House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. In November, the World Health Organization said resistance to artemisinin appeared to be spreading in the region from the Cambodia-Thailand border and possibly moving into Myanmar, AFP reports.
"The malaria parasite has a history of adapting to drugs and adapting to insecticides," Regina Rabinovich, the director of infectious diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said, according to AFP. "Drug resistance to the most effective drug available, artemisinin-based combination therapy, is developing and has been recognized in southeast Asia."
According to Roger Bate, who works for the American Enterprise Institute, research has shown that approximately half of the malaria drugs that failed quality control tests also contained some artemisinin.
"So they are directly contributing to resistance," Bate said, according to AFP. "Resistance is being noticed on the Thai, Cambodian, Burmese borders and resistance is likely to increase. Fake and substandard antimalarial medications are a significant and probably growing problem."
The actual number of poor quality drugs in circulation is not known. Additionally, contributing to the resistance issue is the sale and use of monotherapies, which contain just one active agent. Experts favor combination therapies that tend to last longer. The panelists urged researchers to focus on developing new drugs against malaria, making sure they cannot be sold or distributed as monotherapies.
"Research and development is essential because the preventive and curative tools that are available today and are so effective at controlling malaria are not sufficient to control malaria in the long term or for eradication due in part to the development of resistance," Rabinovich said, AFP reports.