Quality of artemisinin-based combination formulations for malaria treatment: prevalence and risk factors for poor quality medicines in public facilities and private sector drug outlets in Enugu, Nigeria

PLoS One. 2015 May 27;10(5):e0125577. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125577. eCollection 2015.


Background: Artemisinin-based combination therapies are recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as first-line treatment for Plasmodium falciparum malaria, yet medication must be of good quality for efficacious treatment. A recent meta-analysis reported 35% (796/2,296) of antimalarial drug samples from 21 Sub-Saharan African countries, purchased from outlets predominantly using convenience sampling, failed chemical content analysis. We used three sampling strategies to purchase artemisinin-containing antimalarials (ACAs) in Enugu metropolis, Nigeria, and compared the resulting quality estimates.

Methods: ACAs were purchased using three sampling approaches--convenience, mystery clients and overt, within a defined area and sampling frame in Enugu metropolis. The active pharmaceutical ingredients were assessed using high-performance liquid chromatography and confirmed by mass spectrometry at three independent laboratories. Results were expressed as percentage of APIs stated on the packaging and used to categorise each sample as acceptable quality, substandard, degraded, or falsified.

Results: Content analysis of 3024 samples purchased from 421 outlets using convenience (n=200), mystery (n=1,919) and overt (n=905) approaches, showed overall 90.8% ACAs to be of acceptable quality, 6.8% substandard, 1.3% degraded and 1.2% falsified. Convenience sampling yielded a significantly higher prevalence of poor quality ACAs, but was not evident by the mystery and overt sampling strategies both of which yielded results that were comparable between each other. Artesunate (n=135; 4 falsified) and dihydroartemisinin (n=14) monotherapy tablets, not recommended by WHO, were also identified.

Conclusion: Randomised sampling identified fewer falsified ACAs than previously reported by convenience approaches. Our findings emphasise the need for specific consideration to be given to sampling frame and sampling approach if representative information on drug quality is to be obtained.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / chemistry
  • Antimalarials / standards*
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use*
  • Artemisinins / analysis
  • Artesunate
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Falciparum / drug therapy
  • Nigeria
  • Pharmacies
  • Private Sector
  • Public Facilities
  • Quality Control
  • Risk Factors
  • Tablets


  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Tablets
  • Artesunate
  • artemisinin

Grants and funding

The authors are grateful to the Artemisinin Combination Therapy consortium via an award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.