Doctors call for cash to beat child killer malaria

MSF malaria specialist Christa Hook said single drug treatments might be cheap but were a waste of time and money as the parasites had developed strong resistance to 1970s wonder cure chloroquine and replacement sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP).
LONDON (Reuters) - Doctors appealed on Thursday for more cash to beat malaria which they said was killing two children a minute as it swept through Africa, a continent already devastated by AIDS, tuberculosis and poverty. "There is a need for a big injection of funds by donor countries," Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) malaria specialist Christa Hook told a news conference on the eve of publication of a World Health Organization/UNICEF report on the disease. The report, to be published on Africa Malaria Day, is expected to praise progress in fighting the disease but stress much more needs to be done in prevention and cure including provision of mosquito nets and effective drugs. MSF said malaria was one of the biggest killers in Africa, accounting for up to two million deaths a year, up to half of hospital admissions and costing the continent one billion dollars a month in lost output. "In the last 20 years the problem of malaria has grown dramatically, as have the number of people dying from it," Hook said. "We need a good quality treatment for malaria, now and into the future." She said single drug treatments might be cheap but were a waste of time and money as the parasites had developed strong resistance to 1970s wonder cure chloroquine and replacement sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP). "Chloroquine is more readily available than candy and about as effective," Hook added. Resistance rates of up to 94 percent against chloroquine and 70 percent against SP had been noted in Sudan -- and were only slightly lower elsewhere. Instead, there should be a switch to cocktails containing derivatives of the new plant-based drug artemisinin which cures quickly, completely and against which there were no signs of resistance. "An ACT (artemisinin-based combination therapy) course cures in just three days," she said. But she said attempts to persuade donor nations to come up with more cash for the new therapy had met with little joy. "We are not pushing at an open door here," Hook said. The trouble was that artemisinin derivatives were not readily available and each ACT course cost 1.50 dollars against just 10 cents for alternatives such as chloroquine. But Hook said African governments were very keen to adopt ACT treatments because they had been seen to work. She said the cost of the treatment -- which by wiping out the parasites from the patient's blood also helped toward prevention of the disease -- would tumble once demand grew and prompted wider-scale cultivation of the plant. MSF parasitologist Bill Watkins said drug companies -- notorious for maintaining high prices for their cures -- were seeking to develop cheaper remedies. But he warned that the world would have to wait at least a decade for an operationally useful vaccine against malaria.