The World Health Organization says the most effective cure for malaria could be in jeopardy, unless their new prescription guidelines are followed.
Malaria affects about 300 million people worldwide each year, and between one and one and a half million of those die from it. The disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is most prominent in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Drugs used to treat drug resistant strains of malaria have emerged. The best of them is called Artemisinin. It was developed in China from the wormwood plant. Many drug manufacturers distribute Artemisinin alone, as monotherapy, to treat malaria. The World Health Organization says that treatment method must be changed to one called "Artemisinin combination therapy", or ACT.
"Used alone, Artemisinin risks creating drug resistance, but when used correctly, with other anti-malarial drugs in ACTs, Artemisinin is more than 95 percent effective in curing malaria,” says Dr. Arata Kochi, director of the WHO's Malaria department.
The fear is that improper use of artemisinin will spur the malaria parasite to develop a resistance to the compound, something that has happened to all previous malaria therapies.
WHO's Doctor Pascal Ringwald estimates it will take at least 10 years before another effective medicine becomes available. "It would be a major disaster for the malaria world. Because this would mean, we would have, for the next 10 years, no more effective drugs to treat malaria."
Though many countries have already taken the step of only allowing funding for Artemisinin combination therapy, some private doctors in developing countries still give monotherapy because it is cheaper for patients who cannot afford the $2 (U.S.) cost of ACT.
The WHO is placing 18 pharmaceutical companies on notice, requesting they immediately stop using monotherapy to treat malaria. The companies that make the drugs did not respond to VOA's request for comment on their use of monotherapy.