The World Health Organization says more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, most of them children, urgently need effective treatment for malaria. To mark Africa Malaria Day on Sunday, the World Health Organization says malaria deaths can be prevented, but more money is needed to make this possible.
WHO says malaria kills at least one million children every year in Africa. Several million more become seriously ill. It says existing medicines are no longer effective in most places where the malaria parasite has become resistant to them.
WHO says better treatment is available. It notes Artemisinin-based combination therapies known as ACTs are highly effective in treating malaria. Unfortunately, says Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, the director of the organization's department known as "Roll Back Malaria," the new drugs are too expensive for most African countries.
"We believe that it is wrong to wait until the price goes down because of the fact that by only increasing the demand for these drugs, the price will go down," said Fatoumata Nafo-Traore. "And, this is why we are urging African endemic countries to shift to these drugs."
It costs $2.40 a dose for ACTs, compared to the cheaper, but now ineffective Chloroquine, which costs about 10 cents a dose. For the past two years, WHO has been urging countries where there is resistance to conventional treatments to switch to ACTs. Since then, 15 African countries and 14 outside Africa have taken this advice.
These countries have received significant help in purchasing the more expensive drugs from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Since it was established two years ago, the Fund has given more than $500 million for malaria programs globally. Half of that amount has gone for malaria drugs.
Senior Global Fund Advisor Vinand Natulya says the Fund would like countries that have not requested money for ACTs to move in that direction.
"The Global Fund is in communication with countries, encouraging those that did not request ACTs as the treatment of choice to reprogram their funded proposals, so that they replace chloroquine and SP [sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine] with ACTs, "said Vinand Natulya.
At the current price, the World Health Organization estimates, it will cost about $1 billion a year to provide 60 percent of the needy populations with ACTs. In the meantime, it says, the best some countries can do is use cheaper methods, such as insecticide-treated bed nets, to slow the spread of malaria.