Conquering Malaria

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 27, 2005 | Go to article overview

Conquering Malaria


Byline: Kent R. Hill, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Over the last year, there has been much debate about prevention and treatment of malaria, an insidious infectious disease afflicting some 500 million people each year.

More than 1 million yearly die of malaria in Africa; the victims are primarily young children. This disease leads to a loss of $12 billion a year in Africa's gross domestic product.

While much malaria dialogue has centered on using insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying of insecticides to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes, not as much public discourse has focused on the increasingly drug-resistant malaria parasite itself. Since the 1950s, there has been a relatively stable pool of antimalarial drugs. But within the last decade, the malaria parasite has adapted to many drugs, rendering the drugs weak or ineffective. This increase in resistance creates more pressure on the international community to find stronger treatments to fight new malaria strains.

One such treatment derives from the Artemisia plant, a Chinese herb that, until recently, was harvested mainly in China and Vietnam. Recent clinical data indicate artemisinin-based combination therapy, or ACT, is hugely effective against new malaria strains, with virtually no side effects. The drug is taken orally over three days and very rapidly eliminates the parasite from the body, wiping out malaria's flulike symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea and chills.

Today, there is widespread international consensus that ACTs should be the new front-line drug of choice against malaria. A little more than two years ago, at the behest of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Institute of Medicine convened an expert study committee to explore the economic landscape of antimalarial drugs, particularly ACTs. Published in July 2004, the final report is helping galvanize more policy discussion on how to rapidly produce and distribute artemisinin combination therapy. …

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