Fake and low quality anti-malarial drugs being distributed in Asia and Africa are boosting the disease's resistance to drugs, according to a new study.
The study found that 36% of anti-malarial drugs in Southeast Asia were counterfeited and one third of drugs in sub-Saharan Africa either contained too much or not enough of the active ingredient.
US National Institutes of Health analyst and research fellow and lead researcher Gaurvika Nayyar said: "Despite a dramatic rise in reports of poor-quality anti-malarial drugs over the past decade, the issue is much greater than it seems."
"Most cases are probably unreported, reported to the wrong agencies, or kept confidential by pharmaceutical companies," added Nayyar, writing in the study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.
A resistance to artemisinin, the most effective treatment for malaria, has already been documented.
The study used data from published and unpublished studies that used chemical analyses and malaria medicine packaging in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, which demonstrated that more than a third of malaria drugs failed chemical testing and almost 50% were wrongly packaged.
Malaria kills around 650,000 people a year and the World Health Organisation estimates that as much as a third of all medicines in some developing countries, many of which are at risk of malaria, are fake.
"Much of this morbidity and mortality could be avoided if drugs available to patients were efficacious, high quality and used correctly," said Nayyar.
Image: Mosquito-borne virus malaria claims around 650,000 lives each year. Image courtesy of: CDC/Jim Gathany.