Counterfeit and substandard malaria drugs are a key concern in many parts of the world where the mosquito-borne disease is a problem, and finding a low-cost way to test drugs in the field would be a boon to public health efforts, experts said.
The Food and Drug Administration said the gadget, called the Counterfeit Detection Device, or CD-3, has been used since 2010 to screen cosmetics, foods, medical devices and cigarettes, as well as to investigate product tampering and questionable documents coming into the United States.
It remains to be seen whether the CD-3 can be useful in identifying counterfeit and substandard malaria drugs, but tests will begin later this year in Ghana, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
"We believe it has the ability to be a frontline tool," she told reporters.
The device is battery-operated and uses a variety of wavelengths of light to illuminate a product and compare it to a verified sample.
"This allows inspectors to identify suspect products and remove them from the supply chain," the FDA said in a statement.
"Minimal scientific or technical background is needed to operate the tool, and it can be used even in remote communities or in places with only very basic health care systems."
About 660,000 people die worldwide every year from malaria.