New Program Aims to Weed Out Bad Malaria Medicine

March 6, 2003
By Kate Woodsome
The Cambodia Daily

When faced with the task of combating malaria, Cambodians should be armed with the strongest weaponry available: Effective medicine.

But thanks to the country's porous borders and inadequate monitoring measures, pharmacy shelves continue to be stocked with counterfeit, ineffective or expired medicine, health officials said this week.

But this month, US Pharmacopia, a subsidiary of the US Agency for International Development, will distribute at least 150 disposable drug testing units to the National Laboratory of Drug Quality Control to start the country's first widespread campaign to analyze the authenticity of anti-malaria drugs, said Dr Reiko Tsuyuoka, a scientist for malaria control at the World Health Organization.

"We currently have no idea how many people are using fake or low quality drugs. That is why these tests are so important," Reiko said, adding that the government's drug quality assurance program is not as effective as it should be in identifying counterfeit or ineffective anti-malaria drugs, weakened by poor storage conditions.

Dr Chroeng Sokhan, Vice Director for the Ministry of Health's Department of Drugs and Food, said the government's drug testing process is somewhat effective but could be improved.

Of the more than 4,000 kinds of drugs authorized for importation in 2000, approximately 2,600 drug types passed all registration requirements, 6 percent of which contained inadequate levels of the manufacturer's specified active ingredients despite undergoing the ministry's "post-marketing surveillance," Chroeng Sokhan said.

Tsuyuoka said the new drug testing equipment should help spur the government to identify and eradicate the storage and dissemination of these pills in the private market.

The disposable thin-layer chromatography tests, which will compare questionable pills with drugs containing the required active ingredient levels, will enable even the most remote pharmacists to test the quality of anti-malaria drugs.

The National Laboratory currently is the only institution testing the chemical composition of anti-malaria drugs, analyzing the quality of three categories of prepackaged drugs scheduled for registration once a year, laboratory director Dr Nam Nivanna said.

But Tsuyuoka said it is imperative to monitor newly imported drugs, as well as registered drugs that have been sitting in pharmacies across the country for long periods of time.

Staff from the National Laboratory, National Malaria Center and Central Medical Store soon will be doing just that. On March 17 US Pharmacopia and the WHO will begin a weeklong seminar to teach local staff how to use the disposable testing plates so that they may train two pharmaceutical representatives from five to six provinces burdened by counterfeit or ineffective drugs flowing through the Thai border, Tsuyuoka said.

USAID, in corroboration with WHO, will provide enough funds to test anti-malaria drugs for the next three years, Tsuyuoka said.