Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Mosquito sucking blood

(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Update: Many Malaria Meds Still Fake, and Now the Real Ones Are Iffy Too

• November 15, 2012 • 9:21 AM

(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

Over the summer we we reported the curious story behind a National Institutes of Health study, which had found a third of malaria medications taken around the world are fake. Most commentary on the research intimated that unscrupulous, large, likely Chinese pharmaceutical companies were to blame. It turned out the dummy pills were actually produced by small criminal syndicates, shoestring counterfeit operations run in garages and back rooms, pushing fake meds in convincing packaging to customers in their own communities. Fortunately, none of this would matter soon, we thought—because a promising vaccine against malaria was on the way. In a generation malaria would be, if not gone, certainly on its heels.

This week, the final trial on that promising vaccine will appear in the New England Journal of Medicine—and the surprising results are not encouraging. After an earlier trial showed that more than sixty percent of older children vaccinated would become resistant to the disease, follow-up trials on infants have fallen disappointingly short. In the latest trial, only thirty percent of children showed resistance, and that appears likely to wane dramatically after the first year.

It’s a huge setback for the program and will delay deployment by years—the hope had been 2015. Instead, the weapons against the disease will continue to be what they have been for decades: affordable treatments, reliable medicines, and public information. Some commentary, notably from voices in malarial regions, questioned this week whether the encouraging results from earlier tests had led to false expectations. That the vaccine is a high-profile project backed heavily by the Gates Foundation and numerous celebrity voices doesn’t help. Indian daily The Hindu took care to note how high previous success had set the bar. Doubts, the paper points out, were in the fine print and the footnotes—incautiously, it now seems:

The vaccine has been developed primarily for infants and children in sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons are obvious: of the 216 million cases of malaria and 6,55,000 malaria-related deaths in 2010, a majority of deaths took place in African countries.

Even as many newspapers went overboard last year based on results from the older age group, the 2011 Editorial accompanying the paper in The New England Journal of Medicine explicitly stated: “there does not seem to be a clear scientific reason why this trial has been reported with less than half the efficacy results available.”

The 2011 paper concluded with a rider that the “vaccine has the potential to have an important effect on the burden of malaria in young African children.” The rider was: the “vaccine efficacy among younger infants and the duration of protection will be critical to determining how this vaccine could be used effectively to control malaria.”

In that sense, the latest results do dampen the high spirits seen last year. The last word is yet to be pronounced. One has to wait till 2014 when the complete data is analysed and the outcome is known. Only then can it be said with any certainty if the vaccine will indeed be included for use in the African countries as per WHO recommendations. WHO had taken the unusual decision last year when it had “recommended” its use in the African countries as early as 2015.

Marc Herman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.