Every year about 500 million people become ill of malaria. Every year 1 million people die, because of one version of malaria called Plasmodium falciparum. One major problem is that not all malaria medicines are genuine and some have only a low dose of the active ingredient, so that the malaria parasite becomes resistent. Jeremy Laurance of The Independent wrote the article entitled 'Scientists trace fake anti-malaria pills to dealer in southern China', read here.
The Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine gives the full report about this extraordinary scientific effort:
"Since 1998 the serious public health problem in South East Asia of counterfeit artesunate, containing no or subtherapeutic amounts of the active antimalarial ingredient, has led to deaths from untreated malaria, reduced confidence in this vital drug, large economic losses for the legitimate manufacturers, and concerns that artemisinin resistance might be engendered."
The methods were taking samples, assessing physical appearance, chemical and biological investigations and intelligence.
"The results were crucial in helping the authorities establish the origin of the fake artesunate. For example, the authors identified two regional clusters where the counterfeit tablets appeared to be coming from, thus flagging a potential manufacturing site or distribution network. The presence of wrong active pharmaceutical ingredients (such as the older antimalarial drugs) suggested the counterfeiters had access to a variety of active pharmaceutical ingredients. The presence of safrole, a precursor to the illicit drug ecstasy, suggested the counterfeits may be coming from factories that manufacture ecstasy. And the identification of minerals indigenous to certain regions also helped identify the counterfeits' origin. The researchers concluded that at least some of the counterfeit artesunate was coming from southern China. The Secretary General of INTERPOL presented the findings to the Chinese government, which then carried out a criminal investigation and arrested individuals alleged to have produced and distributed the counterfeit artesunate."
Read about this impressive WHO-Interpol project here.