Fake versions of COVID-19 drug chloroquine seen in Africa

A falsified version of malaria drug chloroquine – hitting the headlines as a possible treatment for coronavirus – has been spotted in Cameroon.

The fake packs of chloroquine phosphate 250mg tablets were allegedly manufactured by Jiangsu Pharmaceutical and Astral Pharmaceuticals, according to an alert issued by Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), citing information received from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The falsified chloroquine phosphate 250mg tablets manufactured by the above two companies have no active pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) and are in packs of 1000 tablets,” said NAFDAC in its alert.

With the COVID-19 pandemic now racing away in Europe and the US – and amid fears that Africa will soon see a surge in cases – it was almost inevitable that criminals would try to exploit public fear of the infection, although malaria drugs are already widely counterfeited.

The labelling information on the falsified Jiangsu Pharma packs included the batch number 660, a manufacturing date of 09/2018 and an expiry of 09/2022, according to NAFDAC. The Astral Pharma packs had the lot number EBT 2542, a manufacturing date of 01/2019 and an expiry of 10/2022.

United Nations official Ahunna Eziakonwa has warned that Africa is facing the “complete collapse of economies and livelihoods” unless the spread of coronavirus can be contained.

At last count Africa had recorded only 8,000 confirmed infections with SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which cases COVID-19 – and 334 deaths.

“The use of falsified chloroquine phosphate 250mg tablets may result in treatment failure and even death,2 said the agency in its alert.

Africans are reportedly rushing to get hold of chloroquine and related drug hydroxychloroquine, even though there is still scant evidence that it can help reduce virus levels in COVID-19 infections.

The SOLIDARITY trial, led by WHO, is however reviewing potential treatments for COVID-19 and includes chloroquine among the drugs under test.

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