MSF Exposes Malaria Myths

Apr 01, 2002

A new report by M├ędecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) scotches the myth that the most effective forms of malaria treatment are too expensive for East African countries.

Today's malaria experts argue that treatment protocols should use combinations of medicines, including highly potent Chinese drugs known as artemisinin derivatives, because increasing parasite resistance has rendered antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine virtually useless in many parts of East Africa. Health ministries counter that such protocols are too expensive and instead propose transitional protocols, which MSF says would be tantamount to giving patients placebos.

MSF's report pinpoints the increased costs of more effective therapies as one of the chief barriers to their widespread use. Current drug combinations cost just 25 cents per adult dose, while more effective combinations with artemisinin derivatives cost approximately $1.30. However, the report shows that, for Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda combined, the additional expenses to implement the more effective combinations would amount to only $19 million a year.

"The report released today destroys one of the key myths blocking the introduction of treatment that has been highly recommended by leading malaria experts," says Dr. Jean-Marie Kindermans of MSF, the report's author. "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."

Artemisinin derivatives, extracted from a Chinese plant, have been used in Asia for more than ten years. They are fast-acting, highly potent, and complementary to other classes of treatment. When used in combination with another medication, artemisinin derivatives appear to slow the development of resistance to the second drug. To date, no artemisinin resistance has been reported.

The full report, "Changing national malaria treatment protocols in Africa: What is the cost and who will pay?" is available on www.accessmed-msf.org.