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AFRO-NETS> Malaria drug costs to be cut

Malaria drug costs to be cut

By Alexander G. Higgins 
Associated Press Writer 

GENEVA (AP) - The World Health Organization praised an agreement by 
Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG to slash the price of its new-
est anti-malaria drug for parts of Africa. The deal, signed Wednes-
day, could help reverse a trend in which "the number of children dy-
ing of malaria in Africa has been increasing in recent years," said 
WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland. "This is really a good 
deal for global health," she said. WHO estimates that malaria, spread 
by the Anopheles mosquito, infects more than 300 million people a 
year and kills 1 million of them annually. Most who die are African 
children under the age of 5. 

Part of the problem is the malaria parasite is increasingly resistant 
to the standard treatment, chloroquine, which once was highly effec-
tive, Brundtland said. Novartis Chief Executive Daniel Vasella said 
the company had developed the new medicine, called Coartem, with an 
eye toward providing it at cost to WHO. The price - about 10 US cents 
a tablet, or US$ 2.40 per full adult treatment - brings the company 
no profit, but covers its costs, he said. Coartem costs up to US$ 40 
per course of treatment in the West, where it is sold under the name 
Riamet to people travelling to malaria-infested areas, Vasella said. 

Novartis developed Coartem with the Institute for Microbiology and 
Epidemiology in Beijing by combining a traditional Chinese plant-
based remedy with a synthetic substance (20mg Artemether and 120mg 
Lumefantrine). The result is the fastest-acting anti-malaria medi-
cine, with a cure rate over 95 percent. It kills parasites in 48 
hours. So far, no development of resistance has been detected, 
Vasella said. 

Brundtland conceded that the low price was still too expensive for 
some countries but said the drug could be used where it is most 
needed to fight drug-resistant cases. The program would focus on East 
and Central Africa, where the need is greatest, she said. The agree-
ment comes as other pharmaceutical companies have moved to cut their 
prices of AIDS drugs in recent months because of pressure to make the 
drugs available to poor countries. Novartis doesn't produce AIDS 
medicines. "Malaria is a bigger killer of young children in Africa 
than HIV/AIDS," said David Alnwick, head of WHO's anti-malaria cam-

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