Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 19th 2015 Contents In a small house in rural Kenya, a
young woman gives birth to a healthy
little girl. Before anyone can celebrate,
the mother starts bleeding. The
woman will die soon if the bleeding
doesn t stop.
Luckily, the midwife has a drug in
front of her, called oxytocin. It can
easily stop the postpartum bleeding
and save the women s life. She takes
the medication, but nothing happens.
It doesn t work.
This story is fictitious. But the sce-
nario is all too common.
The problem is counterfeit drugs---
medications that don t have the active
ingredient or have insufficient quantities
of it to be effective. In other words,
drugs that don t work.
Counterfeit drugs account for roughly
US$75 billion of the US$900 billion
global pharmaceutical market---and
about 100,000 deaths a year in Africa
alone. In Kenya, up to 30 per cent of
drugs on the market are counterfeit,
the World Health Organisation reported.
Many "drugs" are no more than just
chalk or water.
One man in Boston is trying to
Muhammad Zaman, a biomedical
engineer at Boston University, has
designed a suitcase that detects fake
drugs. Called PharmaChk, the device
is about the size of a carry-on bag.
When you open it up and pop a pill
into the designated spot, it tells you
whether the drug is real or not.
Zaman showcased PharmaChk at the
annual DevelopmentXChange confer-
ence in Washington, DC, a few weeks
ago. Back in 2014, he won a US$2 mil-
lion grant from Saving Lives at Birth
to bring PharmaChk closer to com-
"The idea here is very simple. It s a
method to measure the potency of the
drug," he says, demonstrating a pro-
totype of the device at the conference.
"Anybody can get trained in 15 min-
The outside shell of PharmaChk is
hard plastic. Inside are wires, chips and
tiny channels that shuttle liquid around.
In essence, the device measures the
concentration of a drug s active ingre-
dient and how fast it dissolves.
For example, say you want to test a
malaria drug. It can be a pill, powder
or a solution. You simply mix the drug
with plain water and combine it with
a second solution---a fluorescent probe
that comes with the kit. In this case,
the probe is developed specifically so
that it binds to active ingredients in
"When there s a reaction between
the probe and the drug, there is light,"
Zaman says. "The light that comes out
is directly proportional to the amount
of [active ingredients in] the drug.
"Imagine you are dealing with a drug
that is completely fake," he continues.
"When you add the probe, there is no
light. We can say there is no active
ingredient in the drug."
The interaction between the drug
and the probe takes place inside a sil-
icon-polymer testing chip that sits atop
a tiny camera, all embedded in the suit-
case. The camera captures the light,
and the software translates the read-
It s similar to the litmus test---a
chemical way of testing the acidity of
a solution---but instead of colour, you
have a quantitative number that tells
you how much active ingredient there
is in the pill. The results are then dis-
played on a touch screen.
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, August 19, 2015
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Zaman isn t sure yet how much
the PharmaChk will cost, but he
projects it will less than the GPHF-
Minilab, a similar device already
out on the market. The Minilab is
also shaped like a suitcase, but it
weighs about 200 pounds. And it
does not provide testing for liquids.
It also takes hours to process sam-
ples, compared to Pharmachk s 15
Zaman and his team took Phar-
maChk to Ghana last year to test
it out in city hospitals, clinics and
small pharmacies---and to see what
people think of the device. The
team plans on returning to Ghana
again this year. Eventually they
want to try it out in rural com-
munities, as well.
Device like PharmaChk empow-
er doctors, nurses and pharmacists,
says Dr Youseph Yazdi, a biomed-
ical engineering at Johns Hopkins
University. Americans rely on reg-
ulations to ensure medications are
what their labels say they are.
These regulations are missing or
don t work in many developing
Such problems will always be
there, Yazdi says, but when health
workers know whether the drug
is fake or not, they can reject it on
the spot. "They will know, and
they won t buy it," he says. (NPR)
Fighting counterfeit drugs---with a suitcase
The number of people living with
diabetes has soared by nearly 60
per cent in the past decade, Dia-
betes UK warns.
The charity said more than 3.3
million people in the UK have some
form of the condition, up from 2.1
million in 2005.
The inability to control the level
of sugar in the blood can lead to
blindness and amputations and is a
massive drain on the UK s National
Health Service (NHS).
The NHS said it was time to tackle
poor lifestyle, which is a major factor
behind the rise.
Diabetes UK called for the NHS
to improve care for patients and for
greater efforts to prevent diabetes.
Roughly 90 per cent of cases are
type 2 diabetes, which is the form
closely linked to diet and obesity.
People with type 1 generally devel-
op it in childhood and are unable
to produce the hormone insulin to
control their blood sugar levels.
Dr Joan St John, a GP in Brent in
north-west London, where diabetes
levels are some of the highest in the
UK, said the condition had become
incredibly widespread. She told the
BBC News Website: "It s very
noticeable in that not a week goes
by that you don t make a new diag-
nosis of diabetes, at least one if not
two or three; previously that might
have been one a month."
The condition even leads to 135
foot amputations every week across
Dr St John added: "Unfortunately
the historical myth that it is not a
serious condition is still retained by
some people and you have to dispel
Data published last week showed
that diabetes medication now
accounts for ten per cent of the NHS
The reasons why levels of type 1
diabetes are increasing are not
However, the explanation for the
soaring cases of type 2 are being
placed squarely on the nation s bal-
UK diabetes cases soar by
60 per cent in past decade
The PharmaChk is a bit like a litmus test for drugs: you pop in a pill at
one end, and in 15 minutes, a number appears on a screen telling you
the drug's potency. PHOTO: MISTRY/NPR
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