Menus Subscribe Search
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

July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


July 25 • 6:00 AM

Men Find Caring, Understanding Responses Sexy. Women, Not So Much

For women looking to attract a man, there are advantages to being a caring conversationalist. But new research finds it doesn’t work the other way around.


July 25 • 4:00 AM

Arizona’s Double-Talk on Execution and Torture

The state is certain that Joseph Wood’s death was totally constitutional. But they’re looking into it.


July 24 • 4:00 PM

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.


July 24 • 2:00 PM

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.


July 24 • 12:00 PM

What’s in a Name? The Problem With Washington’s Football Team

A senior advisor to the National Congress of American Indians once threw an embarrassing themed party that involved headdresses. He regrets that costume now, but knows his experience is one many others can relate to.


July 24 • 11:00 AM

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that’s fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.


July 24 • 10:58 AM

How the Supremes Pick Their Cases—and Why Obamacare Is Safe for Now

The opponents of Obamacare who went one for two in circuit court rulings earlier this week are unlikely to see their cases reach the Supreme Court.



July 24 • 9:48 AM

The People Who Are Scared of Dogs

While more people fear snakes or spiders, with dogs everywhere, cynophobia makes everyday public life a constant challenge.


July 24 • 8:00 AM

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation

It is all too easy to treat science as a platform that allows the observer to hover over the messiness of life, unobserved and untouched. But by remembering the role of the body in science, perhaps we humanize it as well.


July 24 • 6:00 AM

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.


July 24 • 5:00 AM

In Praise of Our Short Attention Spans

Maybe there’s a good reason why it seems like there’s been a decline in our our ability to concentrate for a prolonged period of time.


July 24 • 4:00 AM

How Stereotypes Take Shape

New research from Scotland finds they’re an unfortunate product of the way we process and share information.


July 23 • 4:00 PM

Who Doesn’t Like Atheists?

The Pew Research Center asked Americans of varying religious affiliations how they felt about each other.


July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

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