WHO demands bigger effort against malaria

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.
LONDON - The world must fulfil its pledges to do more to combat malaria and not fail another generation in Africa, where a child dies of the disease every 30 seconds, the World Health Organisation said on Friday. In a report published to coincide with Africa Malaria Day, the WHO and the U.N. children's fund Unicef said the disease's death toll was "outrageously high". Treatments and preventive measures that are known to be effective are still out of the reach of most on the continent. "The Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Initiative has made considerable progress since it was launched in 1998, but we need to increase efforts to combat a devastating disease," WHO chief Gro Harlem Brundtland said. "Malaria continues to tighten its grip on Africa. By scaling up our efforts we can reverse this trend," she added. The report said malaria killed 3,000 African children a day, or more than two a minute, and threatened 20 percent of the world's people. It said insecticide-treated mosquito nets were effective at prevention but not widely available, and reliable anti-malarial drugs were likewise rare. "Our challenge is to live up to the commitments made five years ago and not fail yet another generation of African children," RBM Executive Secretary Fatoumata Nafo-Traore said. The report came as emergency medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) appealed for donor nations to come up with more cash to help malaria-infected nations switch to new drug cocktails from now-defunct old single remedies. "There is a need for a big injection of funds by donor countries," MSF malaria specialist Christa Hook told a news conference on Thursday. ONE OF AFRICA'S BIGGEST KILLERS 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." 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). 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. But she said attempts to persuade donor nations to come up with more cash for the new therapy had met with little joy. The trouble was that artemisinin derivatives were not readily available and each course cost 1.50 dollars against just 10 cents for alternatives such as chloroquine. She said the cost of the treatment -- which by wiping out the parasites from the patient's blood also helped towards prevention of the disease -- would tumble once demand grew and prompted wider-scale cultivation of the plant. MSF parasitologist Bill Watkins said drug companies -- though criticised in Africa for seeking to maintain high prices that put cures out of the reach of the desperately poor -- 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.