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African countries see surge in fake coronavirus treatments

Published on 14/05/20 at 12:27pm
License to use Creative Commons Zero/Photo from PeakPix

Counterfeit drugs that are falsely advertised to treat coronavirus have seen a surge in sales in parts of Africa.

In Cameroon and Congo, five different types of falsified chloroquine tablets have appeared in recent weeks that either do not contain a high dose of its active ingredient or contain completely different ingredients.

These fake medicines were identified by a research group from the Pharmaceutical Institute of the University of Tubingen led by Professor Lutz Heide. They worked in collaboration with local pharmacists and the German Institute for Medical Mission (Difam).

At the end of March, faith organisations in Cameroon and Congo worked with Difam and the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network from Kenya, and reported on the emergence of these fake chloroquine tablets, which were sold on the black market but also in pharmacies.

The analysis of the fake drugs showed some worrying findings. One sample of chloroquine showed that the active ingredient was too little to cure patients, but suitable enough to promote the development of chloroquine-resistant malaria parasites. Another sample of fake chloroquine tablets, found the main ingredient to be paracetamol, while three others had a large amount of the antibiotic metronidazole. It contained a far too small amount of the drug to be effective but enough to promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In their report, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, the researchers summarised: “On the one hand, the continuous supply of inexpensive, quality-assured medicines for developing countries must be ensured as effectively as possible in the coming months, and on the other hand, easy-to-use devices for medicine quality screening must be established in developing countries to quickly identify suspect medicines and to forward them to a complete analysis.”

Conor Kavanagh

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