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UN: Stronger Anti-Malaria Drugs Needed in Africa - 2002-04-25


United Nations agencies say malaria is rapidly become resistant to the most readily available drugs used to treat the disease in Africa.

The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, has said malaria, a parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is one of the world's deadliest infectious sicknesses.

The agency said malaria poses a major obstacle to development - especially in Africa south of the Sahara where the disease kills about one million people each year. About 90 percent of the world's malaria deaths occur in Africa.

UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte has said that most of the deaths from malaria are of children. "It is the number one killer in Ghana, Malawi, and Angola of children under five. To give you just a breadth of the extent of this problem: in the time it takes you to say malaria, 10 children will have contracted the disease. Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds," Ms. Belmonte said.

The senior advisor for the World Health Organization's "Roll Back Malaria" program, Kamini Mendis, has said low-cost drugs like chloroquine, which costs seven cents to treat an adult, is rapidly losing its effectiveness in east, central and southern Africa.

She said that WHO is advising African nations to switch to new treatments for malaria, even though they are more costly. "The new treatments are, for short, called ACTs, meaning Artemisinin-Based Combination Treatments, so called because artemisinin is a compound which is part of this new treatment. It's based on a Chinese herb and this compound kills malaria parasites very rapidly in the blood, and therefore causes cure in the patient very fast. They are also very well tolerated and there are very few side effects," Ms. Mendis said.

WHO said ACTs combine two drugs that work in different ways making the malaria parasite less resistant to them than to a single drug therapy.

Newer combination therapies can cost up to $2.50. But WHO said more expensive ACTs can be cheaper in the long run because people with resistant strains of malaria go regularly for treatment without ever being cured.

WHO's Dr. Mendis has said that it may be necessary for governments or the international donor community to help subsidize these new treatments for malaria to make them more readily available.

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