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Health Talk Recommends: FDA’s counterfeit detection device takes global aim at malaria

Photo: Culebra_XD via Flickr

Imagine a handheld device that would allow health experts to quickly and easily diagnose medication as counterfeit with a simple scan using waves of light.

It might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has actually developed such a device and are starting to test its effectiveness in the field.

In a feature for the LA Times health blog Booster Shots, writer Melissa Healy profiles the device and explores how it would work. She writes:

“The counterfeit detection device, dubbed CD-3 by FDA officials, was developed by the agency’s Forensic Chemistry Center  in Cincinnati. Emitting light waves that are absorbed differently by items with different chemical make-ups, it is designed to allow easy side-by-side comparisons of authentic drugs and pills or tablets that may look like them but contain none of the disease-fighting agent they profess to contain.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) malaria most often occurs in poor, tropical areas of the world, such as Africa, southeast Asia and southern parts of India. Each year, the disease kills more than 660,000 people and sickens hundreds of thousands more.

While effective medication exists, getting to the people who needed it most can be challenging. Worse, counterfeit medication has made effective malaria treatment (and eradication) nearly impossible in some areas.

In her Booster Shots piece, Healy notes that, “In sub-Saharan Africa, 20 percent of the drugs used to fight malaria are outright counterfeits, and 35 percent are “substandard” – meaning they are not potent enough to treat a patient’s malaria.”

According to University of Minnesota tropical diseases expert David Boulware, M.D., M.P.H., associate director of Global Health Programs in Internal Medicine from the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases & International Medicine, the latest device could be a tremendous benefit.

“Substandard and counterfeit medications are a major problem worldwide,” said Boulware, who was not interviewed by the LA Times. “A handheld device, which works, would be a major advance.”

For the full story, check out Healy’s Booster Shots piece here.

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