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UN urges donor countries, drug firms to fund anti-malaria fight to save millions

UN urges donor countries, drug firms to fund anti-malaria fight to save millions

A woman receives medication to treat  malaria
With more than 600 million people, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa, facing the daily threat of death from malaria since new treatments are unavailable where they live, the United Nations today called on donor countries and pharmaceutical firms to provide the resources necessary to conquer new drug-resistant strains.

"At least one million children die every year in Africa from malaria. Several million more become seriously ill. In many places, they are still given medicines whose effectiveness is very low and decreasing," the Director-General of the Geneva-based UN World Health Organization (WHO), Lee Jong-wook, said. "Better treatment is available and must be delivered urgently to the people who need it most."

Adding her voice to the appeal ahead of Africa Malaria Day on April 25, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy said powerful new drugs can make the difference between life and death for hundreds of millions. “If the private and public sectors work together effectively, we can quickly reshape the marketplace for malaria drugs and take a great leap toward rolling back malaria,” she declared.

The main challenge is that chloroquine, the least expensive and most widely used anti-malarial drug, has lost its effectiveness in much of Africa. In recent years, a new more expensive treatment called artemisinin-containing combination therapy (ACT) has emerged to fight the disease in those regions.

Since 2001, WHO has strongly recommended that affected countries should switch to ACTs, but at around $2 for an adult dose, this costs 10 to 20 times as much as chloroquine. For most countries in Africa, external funding will be required.

WHO estimates that global demand for ACTs will soar from about 20 million per year at present to between 130 to 220 million adult treatments next year. In following years and at the current price, about $1 billion per year will be required to provide 60 per cent of the affected population. Much of this money will have to come from donor countries and funding institutions such as the Global Fund.

Using its global supply network to play a lead role in the battle, UNICEF called on pharmaceutical firms, too, to get behind the initiative.