US health officials announced Wednesday a plan to test a handheld scanner that can tell, within seconds, if malaria drugs are real or fake.
The US Food and Drug Administration said the scanner, called the Counterfeit Detection Device, has been used to screen cosmetics, foods, medical devices and cigarettes since 2010. It has also been used to investigate product tampering and questionable documents coming into the US.
Tests to see if the CD-3 scanner will be useful in identifying counterfeit and substandard malaria drugs will begin later this year in Ghana.
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"Minimal scientific or technical background is needed to operate the tool, and it can be used even in remote communities or in places with only very basic health care systems," a statement from the FDA said.
The device operates on batteries and uses numerous wavelengths of light to illuminate a product and compare it to a verified sample.
"We believe it has the ability to be a frontline tool," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told reporters.
A study released last year showed that more than a third of malaria pills used in Africa and Asia are fake or of bad quality. Widespread drug counterfeiting has slowed efforts to fight the mosquito-borne disease, which kills more than 660,000 people every year, more than 90 percent of them in Africa.
If the tests in Ghana prove effective, the FDA hopes to mass-produce the CD-3 scanner on an international scale in order to reduce drug counterfeiting around the world.