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Change in Malaria Drug Policy Could Mean Treatment for Fewer People - 2004-06-21

There's been a big change in malaria drug policy at one of the top international donor agencies. But the change means that fewer people will be treated or the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria will have a serious funding shortage. The agency is now requiring countries that apply for funds to use the money to buy artemisinin, instead of chloroquine, which has been the treatment of choice for decades.

Critics say the Global Fund should have stopped letting countries buy chloroquine long ago, because malaria-causing parasites are becoming resistant to the medicine. Malaria is on the rise in Africa largely because those drug-resistant parasites are spreading. But while artemisinin drugs are more effective, they're also 10 or more times more expensive than chloroquine.

So the Global Fund estimates that treating the same number of patients will now cost an additional $1 billion over the next five years. Global Fund senior adviser Vinand Nantulya says it's a challenge to the international community that supports the Fund.

"It is a fact that the new treatments are highly effective. It is a fact that these new treatments are needed. But it is also a fact that these treatments cost much more. So, is the global community serious about malaria? That is the question," he says.

Dr. Nantulya adds that drug makers need to produce more of the medicine to bring the price down.