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September 21, 2017

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Malaria is not the only enemy

If the resistant strains reach Africa, which seems inevitable, tens of thousands more children will die every year as a result. Malaria can be fatal within 48 hours and currently kills a child every thirty seconds, mainly in Africa.

Rich nations have committed billions to fighting malaria, HIV / AIDS and tuberculosis but this is futile if the diseases become resistant.

International donors must pay greater attention to quality and not simply the cheapest deal—of which the Global Fund is guilty. They also need to pay for testing programs that ensure medicines are genuine. It is counterproductive to spend millions of aid dollars on drugs without ensuring that they are real, that they will continue to work in the near future and that they will not increase drug resistance.

Governments in poor countries can also help by reducing (or ideally eliminating) widespread heavy taxes on pharmaceutical imports, so that legitimate suppliers can provide their good-quality drugs at lower prices, challenging the cheap fakes. Political support for local manufacturers that produce sub-standard drugs must also stop.

Political pressure from some members has kept the World Health Organization's International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) from putting the spotlight on sub-standard medicines but this makes no sense: a sub-standard drug is harmful whether it was made with criminal intent or through negligence.

But the WHO's latest warning mentions counterfeits only once and does not include them in its multi-million dollar "key objectives."

If we really do care about the health of the poorest on the planet then every government and pressure group must take immediate action to improve global standards of medicines. The diseases, the counterfeiters, the sub-standard manufacturers and the smugglers are way ahead of us.

Roger Bate is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a U.S. think-tank. Julian Harris is a researcher at the Campaign for Fighting Diseases, London.

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