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In February 2005, a 23-year-old Burmese man checked into a rural hospital in East Burma with a fairly ordinary case of malaria. The hospital gave him the usual treatment — artesunate pills, a medicine heralded as a miracle cure for its speed in treating the disease. Three days later, he slipped into a coma. Within 12 hours, the man was dead. The miracle drug had failed — or so it seemed. The hospital’s entire stock of artesunate was counterfeit, investigation later showed. The pills, which looked like legitimate artesunate made by Chinese company Guilin Pharmaceutical Co. contained only 20 percent of the necessary active ingredient. Death brought the Burmese man a kind of fame — his was the first confirmed death directly linked to counterfeit antimalarials.

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