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,
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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