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Doctors Without Borders Says Africa Needs Better Drugs To Fight Malaria - 2003-04-24

The humanitarian group – Doctors Without Borders – says immediate action is needed to “stem the tide of unnecessary malaria deaths in Africa.” The group says its plan is a simple one: “restock Africa with malaria medicine that works.”

Doctors Without Borders says current drugs used to treat malaria have been losing their effectiveness since the early 1980’s. It says this resistance to “classical anti-malarial” drugs has led to a jump in death rates. Malaria kills between one and two million people in Africa each year.

Dr. Christa Hook advises the group on malaria issues. She says Africa needs something called ACT, which stands for Artemisinin (ar-tem-ISS-in-in)Combination Therapy.

She says, "In the last ten to twenty years, malaria increased very badly in Africa. There are many more cases. There are many more people dying of malaria. One of the real reasons for this is the fact that there is resistance to the drugs that are being used. They just don’t work anymore. However, there are good drugs available. These drugs are based on artemisinin. The drug is used in combination with another effective drug and it can make a huge difference to the recovery of individuals. And, of course, to their return to normal life very quickly, thereafter.

Dr. Hook says African countries want to use the new treatment, but are forced to used stopgap less expensive measures.

She says, "The problem with this is that we know these drugs exist; we know they’re good. They’ve been used for the last ten years and more in Southeast Asia. And we know that they also have very, very few side effects and very few problems. But they are not being used in Africa. And the reason for this is that they cost more than the African countries can afford. This is not to say they are extremely expensive. We’re talking about at the moment the cost of one dollar fifty ($1.50) for an adult treatment to cure that adult. But even that is more than many African countries can afford."

Doctors Without Borders says ACT either must be provided free of charge or at an affordable price. It is calling on donor agencies, including USAID, to provide funds to make that possible.

Its rejects claims by some that many malaria patients would not follow the three-day ACT regimen. It says there’s evidence to the contrary. The humanitarian group says donor nations should stop wasting their money on drugs that don’t work. It adds, “Malaria control using prevention without effective treatment is doomed to failure.”