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WHO: Fight Against Malaria Can Be Won

The World Health Organization is urging countries to step up their fight against malaria by making an anti-malaria drug, Artemisinin, available to everyone who needs it. WHO says Artemisinin-based combination therapies, known as ACT, are especially needed in Africa, the area most affected by the disease.

The World Health Organization estimates between 350 million and 500 million people around the world get malaria every year. Of these, about one million people, mainly children, die. The World Health Organization says most of the cases and deaths are in Africa.

But people involved in the WHO campaign against malaria believe they are in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity for fighting malaria.

Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria spokesman Jon Liden says the fight against HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis may take a long time, but he says new technologies have come on the market in recent years that make it possible to cut dramatically malaria cases. Liden says two major factors are aiding the malaria fight.

"One is the ACT's, the artemisinin combination therapies, and the other ones are the long-lasting bed nets, insecticide impregnated bed nets. One of the most heartening aspects of working in the Global Fund is to hear the reports that are coming in from the programs that we finance ... For example, in the project in southern Africa-Mozambique and Swaziland, mortality rates among children have gone down by 80-percent in a matter of two years because of the combination of effective drugs and blanket use of bed nets," he said.

The Global Fund has been in existence for four years. During that time, it has awarded grants of two-point-two-billion dollars to 70 countries, most of them in Africa, to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Roll Back Malaria Partnership Executive Secretary Awa Marie Coll-Seck acknowledges many countries are reluctant to switch from Chloroquine, an older anti-malaria drug, to Artemisinin because of the expense. But, she says this must be done because Chloroquine is no longer effective against malaria.

Coll-Seck says more money is available from organizations such as the Global Fund to help poor countries buy these drugs. "We have seen coming on the market drugs, generic drugs coming from China and India of good quality because they are now going through the pre-qualification of WHO. It is not counterfeit. It is generics of good qualities. And, we expect that with these generics the price will go down," he said.

Artemisinin is made from a plant grown in China and in some places in East Africa. Coll-Seck says research is going on to produce a synthetic product.

That, plus the manufacture of generic drugs, she says could lower the price to about $1 for a three-day course of treatment instead of the current price of around $2.50.