Pilot Study Comparing Technologies to Test for Substandard Drugs in Field Settings

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 200,000 of the one million deaths that occur from malaria each year could be avoided if antimalarial drugs were "effective, of good quality and used correctly" (World Health Organization, 2003). In May 2008, some of the authors published a study that found 35% of antimalarial drugs sold in private shops and pharmacies in six major African cities failed basic quality control tests (Bate et al., 2008). Additionally, tuberculosis and other bacterial infections cause millions of deaths a year; drugs to combat these diseases are also routinely counterfeited (World Health Organization, 2008).

Portable labs that perform thin-layer chromatography (TLC) provide a relatively inexpensive, versatile, and robust means of identifying substandard drugs at a fraction of the resources required for modern laboratory testing. Over 300 Global Pharma Health Fund e.V. Mini-labs (GPHF-Minilab®) are being used in 70 countries to help public authorities and private companies identify counterfeit and substandard drugs (Global Pharma Health Fund). TLC however, requires trained staff and may be time consuming.

New technologies are making it easier to test the authenticity of drugs in field settings. This paper compares two instruments that use the technologies of Raman spectrometry and near-infrared (NIR) spectrometry against TLC and disintegration testing to identify substandard drugs in the field.

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Roger Bate is the Legatum Fellow in Global Prosperity at AEI.

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