Minilabs detect counterfeit medicines in Zambia

Charity funded by Merck donates mobile labs to Health Ministry in Lusaka

The Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a charitable initiative funded by German pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA, has donated five mobile compact Minilabs to Zambia’s Health Ministry in Lusaka to help detect counterfeit medicines.

Karl-Ludwig Kley, chairman of the Merck executive board, met the Minister of Health of Zambia, Dr Joseph Kasonde in Lusaka, where he learned first-hand about the progress being made in combating the tropical disease schistosomiasis. Merck has committed itself to eliminating the parasitic worm disease in Africa in cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

‘Counterfeit medicines are a serious threat to healthcare. With the Minilabs, we are directly protecting people from what can be a deadly risk,’ said Kley. ‘In addition, we are helping to improve the structures for drug monitoring and ensuring that scarce resources are not wasted on worthless, and even hazardous, medicines.’

The International Police Organisation Interpol estimates that up to 30% of all medicines in Africa are either counterfeit or of inferior quality.

The Minilab developed by GPHF consists of two portable and tropic-resistant suitcases that contain the means to detect inferior or ineffective medicines. It offers quick, simple and low-cost test methods to check medicines for external abnormalities, identity and content, and identifies 57 active pharmaceutical ingredients, particularly those in medicines commonly used against infectious diseases. The test methods include those for common antibiotics, anthelmintics, virustatics, anti-malarial medicines, tuberculostatics, and other medicines.

To date, the GPHF has supplied about 470 Minilabs at cost, to more than 80 countries. More than half of these are in Africa, with a third in Asia. The combination of a simple, reliable test set for onsite testing and a manual with detailed instructions on performing the test is said to be unique.

Merck continues to participate in external research with the aim of increasing the number of medicines that can be tested as well as to discover other possibilities for optimising the Minilab. Training is also offered to ensure that the users are familiar with the test procedure.

In addition to the Minilabs, Merck is involved in a major WHO project that aims to improve healthcare on the African continent by combating schistosomiasis in schoolchildren.

To date, Merck has provided WHO annually with up to 25 million tablets containing the active ingredient praziquantel, free of charge. In the medium term, the company will increase that number tenfold to 250 million a year. This will enable the treatment of around 100 million children a year. It is estimated that more than 200 million people are infected and that around 200,000 die from schistosomiasis each year.