Papua New Guinea and Australia have joined a regional health partnership with five Southeast Asian nations in an attempt to improve access to regulated lifesaving medicines throughout the Indo-Pacific.
The four-year Regulatory Strengthening Program will focus on building robust regulatory systems throughout Indonesia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia so authorities can guarantee their citizens access to the best medicines to treat deadly infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.
“The Indo-Pacific region is one of great diversity, with varying capacities at the national level to deliver safe, quality, effective medical products,” Australia Ambassador for Regional Health Security Peter Versegi told Global Citizen. “The program will support six countries to improve their regulatory systems and foster collaboration and work-sharing mechanisms to encourage the efficient registration of priority medical products across the region.”
The Asia-Pacific region is home to the second greatest malaria strain globally, behind Africa. In less than 20 years, however, most Asia Pacific nations have eliminated the mosquito-borne disease by over 75% with 11 on track for total elimination by 2025.
Unfortunately, these achievements are at stake due to a recently thriving trade in fake and substandard medicines. Throughout the 11 Southeast Asian nations, one-third of all antimalarial drugs are thought to be under-regulated and of poor quality, which, in turn, hinders national disease control efforts and allows germs to develop the ability to defeat the regulated drugs designed to kill them.
“Fake or poor-quality drugs thrive in markets where authorities lack the resources and capacity to enforce international standards for quality medicines,” Ben Rolfe, CEO of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, wrote in the Khmer Times. “Fake drugs are a scam and a big business. Pharmaceutical crime sales range from $163 billion to $217 billion per year globally.”
Globally, antimicrobial resistance is responsible for 200,000 deaths each year. According to Rolfe, that figure could rise to 10 million deaths per year, and cost global economies $100 trillion by 2050.
“However, if we ensure access to high-quality medicines, we strengthen our health systems, reinforce our commitment to equitable healthcare and benefit other disease elimination and public health efforts in the process,” Rolfe stated. “Shutting down the fake drug business will help us to achieve a malaria-free and healthy Asia Pacific.”