Article Text


Prevalence of substandard and falsified artemisinin-based combination antimalarial medicines on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea


Introduction Poor-quality artemisinin-containing antimalarials (ACAs), including falsified and substandard formulations, pose serious health concerns in malaria endemic countries. They can harm patients, contribute to the rise in drug resistance and increase the public’s mistrust of health systems. Systematic assessment of drug quality is needed to gain knowledge on the prevalence of the problem, to provide Ministries of Health with evidence on which local regulators can take action.

Methods We used three sampling approaches to purchase 677 ACAs from 278 outlets on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea as follows: convenience survey using mystery client (n=16 outlets, 31 samples), full island-wide survey using mystery client (n=174 outlets, 368 samples) and randomised survey using an overt sampling approach (n=88 outlets, 278 samples). The stated active pharmaceutical ingredients (SAPIs) were assessed using high-performance liquid chromatography and confirmed by mass spectrometry at three independent laboratories.

Results Content analysis showed 91.0% of ACAs were of acceptable quality, 1.6% were substandard and 7.4% falsified. No degraded medicines were detected. The prevalence of medicines without the SAPIs was higher for ACAs purchased in the convenience survey compared with the estimates obtained using the full island-wide survey-mystery client and randomised-overt sampling approaches. Comparable results were obtained for full island survey-mystery client and randomised overt.

However, the availability of purchased artesunate monotherapies differed substantially according to the sampling approach used (convenience, 45.2%; full island-wide survey-mystery client, 32.6%; random-overt sampling approach, 21.9%). Of concern is that 37.1% (n=62) of these were falsified.

Conclusion Falsified ACAs were found on Bioko Island, with the prevalence ranging between 6.1% and 16.1%, depending on the sampling method used. These findings underscore the vital need for national authorities to track the scale of ineffective medicines that jeopardise treatment of life-threatening diseases and value of a representative sampling approach to obtain/measure the true prevalence of poor-quality medicines.

  • artemisinin based monotherapy
  • artemisinin based combination therapy
  • artemisinin containing antimalarials
  • high-performance liquid chromatography
  • mass spectrometry
  • drug quality
  • degraded medicines
  • substandard medicines
  • falsified medicines
  • outlet surveys

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.