Real Diseases, Fake Drugs

From the New York Times:

Dr. Fernández, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that the demonstration, which he repeated with other bills provided by a reporter, showed both how pervasive cocaine was in the United States and how sensitive his machines were.

They can instantly identify the chemical makeup of food, drugs and just about anything placed in front of their stainless-steel aperture. The uses of the machines, known as mass spectrometers, are manifold — the federal Department of Homeland Security has commissioned Dr. Fernández to study whether the technology can help sniff for explosives at airports.

But Dr. Fernández’s main focus is counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs, especially in poorer countries, where government regulation is weak. He is part of an informal group of researchers and government officials spanning Africa, Asia and the United States who have teamed up with Interpol, the international police agency, to use cutting-edge technology in tracking fake drugs that claim to treat malaria. Counterfeit malaria drugs are of particular concern because of the scale and severity of the disease — it kills more than 2,000 children a day in Africa alone — and fears that fake or substandard malaria drugs are aggravating a growing problem of drug resistance.

By the way, “A typical mass spectrometer goes for about $150,000, a budget-breaker for governments of poorer countries.”


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