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Minilabs are helping to save lives, mostly in developing countries
Malaria tropica is the most dangerous of the known types of malaria. If not treated at an early stage, the likelihood is high that the patient will not survive. This disease kills more than one million people worldwide every year, although many of them actually could be saved. In many instances, however, the medicine the patients receive is counterfeit and thus entirely ineffective.
Counterfeit medicines represent a growing threat to health care, particularly in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 10% and 30% of all medicines in circulation in developing countries are counterfeit or of low quality. In industrialized countries, on the other hand, this figure is only about one percent. The copies are increasingly being produced by professional criminals. Dr. Jürgen Knackmuss, Head of Public Affairs at Merck and Chairman of the Global Pharma Health Fund e.V. (GPHF), explains why the counterfeit medicines are so deadly: “The packaging and design of the fakes generally cannot be distinguished from those of the genuine items.”
Minilab for testing more than 40 active ingredients
The GPHF is a charitable initiative dedicated to combating counterfeit medicines. Such fakes are particularly widespread in poorer countries, which frequently can’t afford expensive testing methods. The GPHF therefore offers health care providers in these countries a mobile minilab for quick, cost-efficient analysis of medicines. What’s more, the device is supplied at cost. Merck is the exclusive sponsor of GPHF.
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, TBC 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 organizations 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,” reports 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.”
GPHF Minilabs around the world