Aid agency urges use of Chinese malaria drug

Nairobi, February 13, 2002 - Aid agency Medecins sans Frontieres urged east African countries on Wednesday to abandon ineffective anti-malarial drugs in favour of a Chinese plant extract they say could save thousands of lives. Mosquitoes that transmit the disease that kills between 1,3 and 1,8 million African children a year have developed an increasing resistance to drugs used by most governments in the region, an MSF expert said. "The cost of switching to effective combinations rather than combinations which are often no better than placebos, is affordable if international donors are willing to help," Jean-Marie Kindermans, an MSF doctor who specialises in malaria drugs, told a news conference. Kills between 1,3 and 1,8 million African children a yearKenyan health authorities say they prefer to use the Chinese drug as a last resort, saying it is too costly and so powerful that it amounts to using a hammer to kill a mosquito. Malaria is one of Africa's biggest killers, with the continent accounting for ninety percent of nearly 500 million cases a year of malaria in more than 90 countries worldwide. Increasing parasite resistance has rendered common anti-malarial drugs virtually ineffective in parts of east Africa, MSF said. In contrast, the drugs based on a Chinese plant extract known as artemisinin has no reported resistance, MSF said. Kindermans said present drug combinations cost $0,25 per adult dose, while more effective combinations derived from the Chinese plants cost around $1,30. MSF says for Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda combined, the additional cost to implement the more effective combinations would amount to $19-million a year. "For the external aid system, this increase is not out of reach... to make a significant difference for the children in Africa," Kindermans said. Kenya's health ministry said the Chinese treatment was too expensive to be used as a first-line drug. Julius Meme, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Health said: "The Chinese drug... we know it is efficacious but we cannot use it for first-line treatment because if a resistance develops to it, where then will you go? It is reserved for future use." - Reuters