China's health aid in Africa leads to flood of fake drugs

At The Pulitzer Center website, a feature on the work of investigative journalist Kathleen E. McLaughlin, an American reporter working in Africa whose current work focuses on how China’s health programs, hospitals and medical teams in Africa affect the health landscape. While they do "provide access to life-saving drugs, vaccines and medical care," supply chain problems affect the patient population negatively. One of the biggest problems? Fake drugs, which can in fact kill people.
Focussing on fake malaria pills, Kathleen McLaughlin traveled to Tanzania and Uganda, two of the countries worst-plagued by the parasite, given their borders on Great Lake Victoria – the world's second-largest lake and home to some of the world's deadliest mosquitoes. The fake pills are, quite simply, everywhere. Nearly everyone has a story about fake medications, mostly malaria pills. Because government hospitals are overloaded and corruption makes drugs go missing from official supplies, thousands of people turn to the local pharmacy and buy potentially life-saving drugs when they get the hallmark malarial fever. But in many cases – up to one third of the time – those drugs are fake. The parasite lives on and, when the drugs contain half-strength of partial active ingredients, the parasite can potentially become resistant to real treatment.
More here.


    1. fake, fake – they are labeled as real, effective, meds, but the pharmacy was sold a batch of bunk pills.

      1. Africa has plenty of “traditional medicine” of their own, and doesn’t need to import it from China.  This is fake fake medicine, either with entirely different cheap ingredients or with enough real medicine to pass non-quantitative tests but diluted with cheap ingredients. 

  1. There’s no doubt that fake and substandard drugs are a problem in Africa, but to say that fake pills are “everywhere” and that China is to blame owes more to hype than reality. China has a well developed generic drug industry and antimalarials are not expensive or difficult to produce. There’s no incentive to market pirate or fake antimalarials in Africa when importers can buy the genuine medication in bulk on for a few dollars. What’s needed is a serious quality control evaluation by reliable agencies such as WHO of antimalarials and the other essential medicines as they are sold on the street in Africa.

    1. The BBC Radio story the other day on the same topic said that it’s estimated that most of the malaria pills for sale in Nigeria are fake, based on recent tests.  There’s been some work done on tagging packages of pills with the same kinds of scratch-cards that are used for mobile phone minutes in most of Africa (and lottery tickets in the US) with manufacturer and batch-tracing information, with a six-country database that people can text the batch numbers to so they can verify whether drugs they’re buying are legit, but it’s new enough that it hasn’t made a big dent in the fake medicine problem yet.

      1. I guess you’ve already bought the pills by the time you get to contact the data-base, so people might chose to live in ignorance and hope for a placebo effect.

  2. I always get nervous when reading these denunciations of “fake” and “counterfeit” Chinese products, as they inevitably conflate 1) failure to provide a product of acceptable quality that does what it’s supposed to do with 2) failure to provide Western rentiers with the licensing fees they demand as the price of doing so. It seems like in this case there really are objective problems with the medicine itself. But still, the problem isn’t that they’re “counterfeit”, it’s that they’re fraudulent — which is a totally different thing.

    1. Counterfeit matters in a case like this–when it purports to be some other brand that you know is quality that’s a problem.

  3. You can buy genuine medicine and anti-malarials, produced by European companies. But the problem is cost: generic Indian or Chinese drugs cost 2-3 dollars per treatment but European medicine costs 12-15 dollars. This is a big difference in a country where most of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

  4. It’s worth noting that there is a lot of scaremongering about counterfeit medicines being fostered by Big Pharma companies who want to create the impression that generic drugs = poor quality/fake. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem, but just be a bit sceptical about the claims being made. And this is not a problem confined to Africa. A Shanghai hospital pharmacy audit found that 30% of medications supplied to their hospital were not what they claimed to be – most ‘fakes’ did contain the right active ingredient, but often not in the correct dose or formulation, sometimes with other added ingredients.

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