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

November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


November 19 • 9:00 PM

Gays Rights Are Great, but Ixnay on the PDAs

New research suggests both heterosexuals and gay men are uncomfortable with public same-sex kissing.


November 19 • 4:00 PM

The Red Cross’ Own Employees Doubt the Charity’s Ethics

Survey results obtained by ProPublica also show a crisis of trust in the charity’s senior leadership.



November 19 • 2:00 PM

Egg Freezing Isn’t the Feminist Issue You Think It Is

New benefits being offered by Apple and Facebook probably aren’t about discouraging women from becoming mothers at a “natural” age.


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

The Big One

One company, Comcast, will control up to 40 percent of Internet service coverage in the U.S., and 19 of the top 20 cable markets, if a proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is approved by regulators. November/December 2014

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