Detecting counterfeit pharmaceuticals

Substandard medicines and counterfeits pose a deadly hazard. Interpol estimates that up to 30% of all medicines in developing nations are either illegal, counterfeit or of inferior quality. The Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a non-profit initiative funded by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has therefore taken up the fight against counterfeit medicines. With the Minilab  developed by the GPHF, counterfeit medicines can be detected quickly, easily and cheaply. Two suitcases each weighing around 30 kilograms contain a large number of test methods that state healthcare workers in developing countries can use to inspect pharmaceuticals. Reference samples are used to test the identity and concentration of 75 active ingredients in total, including anti-malarials, antibiotics, analgesics, and antipyretics.

The GPHF has specifically developed the Minilab for use in regions with a simple infrastructure. The rapid analyses can be performed even without lab equipment using normal drinking water. There is currently no other product like it. The majority of the countries where Minilabs are used are located in Africa and Asia. Since 1998, the GPHF has supplied 685 Minilabs to 90 countries at cost. In 2013 and 2014, they donated 113 Minilabs in total. These compact labs are utilized by national health agencies, often in collaboration with governmental drug safety laboratories. They are also frequently a key component of multilateral health projects in partnership with organizations such as UNICEF  or the Global Fund . In addition to selling them at cost, which is handled by a distribution agent, the GPHF and the company will also sometimes donate the test kits. In the 2013-2014 period, 25 Minilabs were donated by the GPHF and 13 by the company.

We participate in external research with the aim of increasing the number of medicines that can be tested. In 2013 and 2014, the GPHF developed testing methods for 12 additional pharmaceuticals and updated the user manual accordingly. The GPHF offers training courses in order to familiarize local users with the testing procedures and ensure that the Minilabs are utilized in a professional manner. In 2013, four courses were offered in Germany, Kenya, Mozambique, and Myanmar, which were attended by 70 participants in total. In 2014, the GPHF trained 60 participants total in Ethiopia, Germany, Kenya, and Nigeria.

In 2013, the GPHF and the Center for Pharmaceutical Advancement and Training (CePAT)  in Ghana – established by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention – formed a strategic alliance to combat counterfeit pharmaceuticals. This alliance aims to expand local capacities so that they can identify substandard and counterfeit medicines. Since 2014, the GPHF has furthermore been partnering with the IFPMA FightTheFakes  campaign, which uses social media to increase awareness of counterfeit medicines.

Goals: Combating counterfeit medicines with the Minilab














Status in 2013 and 2014


Fight counterfeit medicines by providing and enhancing the GPHF MinilabTM

Develop new test methods for five active ingredients and expand manuals to describe the new testing methods

End of 2014

Develop five new testing methods and update the manuals


Develop new test methods for five active ingredients and expand manuals to describe the new testing methods

End of 2015



Conduct 4 training seminars on the use of the GPHF MinilabTM; sell 50 Minilabs

End of 2014

Four training seminars on the use of the GPHF MinilabTM have been conducted, and 37 Minilabs have been sold.


Conduct 3 training seminars on the use of the GPHF MinilabTM; sell 25 Minilabs

End of 2015


Legend: Achieved In progress Not achieved New goal


Publication of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

In the United States and Canada the subsidiaries of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany operate under the umbrella brand EMD.

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