Fake Drug Pipeline Undercuts Malaria Progress

The Wall Street Journal examines the global trade in fake, counterfeit and otherwise substandard malaria medication, in which China and particularly Guangzhou’s African community appear to play a substantial part. From Benoît Faucon, Colum Murphy and Jeanne Whalen:

When customs officials in Luanda, Angola, searched a cargo container from China, they found something hidden inside a shipment of loudspeakers: 1.4 million packets of counterfeit Coartem, a malaria drug made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG.

The discovery, last June, led to one of the largest seizures of phony medicines ever. The fakes—enough to treat more than half the country’s annual malaria cases, had they been genuine—are part of a proliferation of bogus malaria drugs in Africa that threatens to undermine years of progress in tackling the disease.

[…] China’s foreign ministry said the country “has always attached great importance to drug safety and resolutely combats the…manufacture and sale of counterfeit medicines.” The ministry added that it is “not aware” of evidence that any fake Coartem found in Africa came from China.

[…] Counterfeit Coartem has also been found and seized in Guangzhou itself. In February 2012, the Chinese police and the Chinese Food and Drug Administration seized 600 boxes of fake packets of the drug—enough to treat 18,000 patients—in two lorries in Guangzhou, according to a private investigator familiar with the haul. [Source]

A Chinese crackdown last year led to almost 2,000 arrests and the confiscation of $180 million worth of counterfeit medication. The Journal’s story follows an AFP report on Sunday about the seizure of 1.2 million doses of fake aspirin in France, hidden in a shipment of tea from China. The fake malaria drug trade has previously been the subject of a series of reports by Kathleen McLaughlin, which were subsequently denied by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. McLaughlin later discussed the issue with Dr. Patrick Lukulay of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention and The China in Africa Podcast’s Cobus Van Staden in a Google Hangout hosted by the Pulitzer Center.