Mini-labs to fight counterfeit drugs in Africa

pharmafile | March 2, 2012 | News story | Sales and Marketing Africa, Merck KGaA, Zambia, counterfeits 

Merck KGaA is donating equipment which can detect counterfeit drugs, while also increasing its commitment to eradicating schistosomiasis in Africa.

Five mobile compact labs are being given to Zambia’s health ministry by the company’s charitable Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF).

Interpol estimates that up to 30% of all medicines in Africa are either counterfeit or of inferior quality, which means that health professionals there risk wasting money buying potentially harmful fakes.

The ‘mini-labs’ – consisting of two portable suitcases – can carry out quick on-site tests, identifying 57 active pharma ingredients, particularly those in common antibiotics, anthelmintics, virustatics, and anti-malarial medicines.

“Counterfeit medicines are a serious threat to health care,” said Merck chairman Karl-Ludwig Kley on a visit to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. “With the minilabs we are directly protecting people from what can be a deadly risk.”

So far the GPHF has supplied 470 minilabs at cost to more than 80 countries, largely in Africa and Asia, and Merck says they are particularly helpful in speeding up quality control for medicines in rural areas. 

At the same time, Merck is upping the number of pills it gives free of charge to combat the parasitic worm disease schistosomiasis in African schoolchildren.

Estimates suggest more than 200 million people are infected annually, with 200,000 dying from it each year.

Pharma companies, working with health organisations and charities, have been active recently in working towards wiping out some tropical diseases.

Merck has already said it will help the World Health Organisation until schistosomiasis is eliminated, and currently provides the WHO with up to 25 million tablets containing the active ingredient praziquantel each year.

In an eye-catching move, the company is now set to increase that number ten-fold to 250 million annually “in the medium term” – enough tablets to treat 100 million children per year.

Adam Hill

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