The specter of an alarming rise in resistance to standard treatments for deadly diseases like TB, AIDS, malaria and others over the past several years is a nightmare to keep public health officials world over awake at night. According to scientists, this resistance may be caused by the increased amount of counterfeit medicines. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of all medicines in circulation in developing countries are counterfeit or of low quality. In industrialised countries, on the other hand, this figure is only about one per cent. The counterfeit medicines are increasingly being produced by professional criminals. Since the packaging and design of the fakes generally cannot be distinguished from those of the genuine medicines, the counterfeit medicines are assuming alarming proportions in developing countries. Such fakes are particularly widespread in poorer countries, which frequently can’t afford expensive testing methods. In this background, picking up the gauntlet, Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a charitable initiative dedicated to combating counterfeit medicines, is offersing health care providers in these countries a mobile minilab for checking the authenticity of medicines, quickly and cost-efficiently. What’s more, the device is supplied at cost. The GPHF was initiated and is funded exclusively by Merck, Darmstadt Germany.
The GPHF Minilab® consists of two impact-resistant, waterproof cases filled with various aids such as test plates for chromatography, reagents, reference standards and manuals. These materials can detect more than 40 of the world’s most important and frequently used pharmaceutical active ingredients for combating infectious diseases such as malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, and fungus and worm infections. Preparations are now underway to expand the range of active ingredients that can be detected by the Minilab. For example, the GPHF is currently planning a project together with the United States Pharmacopeia Drug Quality and Information Program (USP DQI ) that will develop tests for new drugs to treat tuberculosis. Claiming up to 1.3 million victims per year in sub-Saharan Africa, TB is considered to be one of the most dangerous infectious diseases after malaria.
As far as distribution of the Minilab is concerned, the GPHF is working with a number of strong partners dedicated to creating functioning health care systems worldwide. These partners include WHO, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and Celesio AG, a pharmaceutical wholesaler based in Stuttgart, Germany. These organisations purchase the Minilabs and train the users. “But often the biggest challenge is to try to motivate local governments and agencies to take action on their own initiative,” says GPHF Project Manager Dr Richard Jähnke. It isn’t enough, Dr Jähnke points out, to simply deliver a Minilab to a given location “because trained staff also are required, as is a willingness to expand the use of quality assurance measures as an element of preventive health care”.
Despite several obstacles, the GPHF has registered many noteworthy successes with the Minilab. Today Minilabs are in use in 70 countries worldwide, mostly in Africa, Asia, and South America. This widespread use is also boosting the system’s level of acceptance in other countries.