Malaria research tops agenda

Former Irish president and United Nations human rights chief Mary Robinson, who now heads an organisation called the Ethical Globalisation Initiative, said the provision of anti-malarial drugs was a basic human right. “In addition to saving lives, the social and economic benefits delivered by malaria interventions, such as increased productivity in poor countries, make it incredibly cost-effective,” she told the meeting of the Medicines For Malaria Venture (MMV). The venture was set up five years ago at the initiative of the pharmaceutical industry and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to develop and deliver new affordable anti-malarial drugs. It is now managing the largest ever portfolio of malaria drug research, with more than 20 projects. It aims to register at least one new drug before 2010 and keep a pipeline of products necessary to protect the more than two billion people at risk of malaria. Chris Hentschel, president of the Malaria Venture, said resistance to widely used drugs such as chloroquine has rendered them useless in many parts of the world. “We may have two new drugs available by the end of next year,” he told the meeting in the southern Zambian city. “It is urgent for us to plan the launch of these new drugs and ensure that they reach those most in need. We must mobilise all necessary talents and resources because winning the battle against malaria is within our reach.” Artemisinin-combination therapy, or ACT, is now regarded as the most effective way of treating malaria, but is more expensive than chloroquine. There are hopes that a new generation of ACT drugs, including pyronaridine-artesunate, could soon become a major weapon against the mosquito-borne disease. Robinson announced an US$11,5-million grant from the Irish government. “MMV has surpassed expectations in building an anti-malarial drug pipeline, now it must work with its partners to ensure that these drugs reach the poorest,” she said. Participants at the meeting included industry and government representatives, charities, the WHO, World Bank and other specialists. Malaria kills more than one million people each year, with the vast majority of victims being young children and pregnant women. In sub-Saharan African countries like Zambia, it is the biggest child killer and is a major impediment to economic development. ‘ Sapa-AP.

May 2006
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