23 May 2001
WHO AND NOVARTIS JOIN FORCES TO COMBAT DRUG RESISTANT MALARIA
In a joint effort to provide essential medicines at affordable prices, the World Health Organization and Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis have agreed to provide developing countries with a new treatment for drug resistant malaria. The drug, co-developed by Novartis, will serve as a powerful tool against an illness that afflicts over 300 million people and kills more than one million each year.
In the last 10 years, the malaria parasite has grown increasingly resistant to the most common treatment, chloroquine. However, a combination of a Chinese herb derivative, known as artemether, and lumefantrine has demonstrated cure rates above 95%, even in areas of multi-drug resistance.
Novartis will supply the new therapy, called Coartem, to WHO for use in developing countries at cost — approximately 10 cents a tablet, amounting to less than $ 2.50 per full treatment for adults and considerably less for children.
"These kinds of private-public partnerships are key to the fight against diseases of poverty," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director general of WHO. "The resources, know-how and technologies are there, we just need to put them at the disposal of the poorest."
As part of the agreement, WHO will appoint a group of experts to review requests for supplies and distribute the drug through governments of malaria endemic countries and NGOs. WHO and Novartis also plan to collaborate in research to improve treatment regimens in African countries. Specially designed packs of Coartem have been developed to facilitate proper use by children and people who cannot read.
Malaria re-emerged as a public health crisis at the end of the 20th century. In 30 years the death rate in Africa had increased by almost 50%. Despite efforts to combat it, malaria continues to account for at least 20% of under-five mortality in Africa and constitutes 10% of the continent’s overall disease burden. Malaria causes 30-50% of inpatient admissions, incurs 40% of total public health expenditures, and up to 50% of outpatient visits in malaria endemic areas.
"The fact is that malaria is a bigger killer of young children in Africa than HIV/AIDS," said David Alnwick, Manager of the Roll Back Malaria project, an international private-public partnership to combat malaria. "Together with AIDS and TB, malaria is a major barrier to economic and social development."
For further information please contact Daniela Bagozzi, WHO Geneva, telephone: (+41 22) 791 45 44, fax: (+41 22) 791 48 58. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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