Officials debate whether to scrap malaria program

October 31, 2012 by Maria Cheng
In this Aug. 26, 2009 file photo, a merchant speaks with a woman holding her ill child at a pharmacy in Pailin, Cambodia. The future of a pricey malaria program meant to provide cheap drugs for poor patients may be in jeopardy after health officials clashed over its effectiveness in two new reports. In 2010, the Affordable Medicines Facility for malaria was started by groups including United Nations agencies and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It was a pilot project to subsidize artemesinin combination drugs. Most of the drugs bought were sold in the private sector, where there are few controls on who gets them. But in October 2012, a report by Oxfam, an international charity, labeled the program a failure and said there was no proof it had saved lives because officials didn't track who received the drugs. (AP Photo/David Longstreath, File)

The future of a pricey malaria program meant to provide cheap drugs for poor patients may be in jeopardy after health officials clashed over its effectiveness in two new reports.

In 2010, the Affordable Medicines Facility for was started by groups including United Nations agencies and the to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It was a to subsidize artemesinin combination drugs, the most effective .

The initiative cost more than $460 million, mostly funded by the Global Fund, UNITAID, and the Canadian and British governments. It was tested in eight countries: Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. Most of the drugs bought were sold in the private sector, where there are few controls on who gets them.

Last week, a report by Oxfam, an international charity, labeled the program a failure and said there was no proof it had saved lives because officials didn't track who received the drugs.

"It's time for this to be scrapped," said Mohga Kamal-Yanni, the paper's author. "If you subsidize drugs and make them cheap, then clearly the supply will increase. But we have no idea whether the drugs are getting to the right people."

According to the , "improving the rational use of (malaria drugs) was not a specific strategic objective" of the program. In a statement, the agency said there was limited information about how many children under five—those most susceptible to malaria—received the subsidized drugs.

"No information has been made available on the use of these medicines by the poorest communities," WHO said.

But in another paper published Wednesday in the , experts insisted the program was "an effective mechanism" to lower the price of preferred malaria drugs and make them widely available.

That study didn't include Cambodia and found that everywhere except for Niger and Madagascar, there was a bigger supply of the medicines. Researchers didn't measure whether that lowered the number of malaria cases. The study was paid for by the Global Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Global Fund called the program "a practical approach to fighting disease" and said the were not previously available in many African communities. "The reality of this program is that it is getting life-saving medicine to people who need it most from the private sector outlets where they already seek treatment," the fund said in a statement.

Others suggested the initiative be overhauled.

"We have had caveats about this program since the beginning," said Manica Balasegaram, an executive director at Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is not linked to either report.

He said it was important to use diagnostic tests before giving out malaria medicines, to ensure that people who took them actually had malaria. Giving the drugs to people without the disease could worsen resistance and wouldn't cure whatever ailment they did have. "If this program continues, we would like to see serious changes made," Balasegaram said.

Next month, Global Fund officials and others will discuss the program's fate at a previously scheduled meeting.

Since the program's inception, the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative, the world's second-biggest donor to malaria control after the Global Fund, has requested compelling evidence the subsidy program works. Without that, the U.S. group said it is not allowed by law to finance the malaria project. WHO has described the program's future as uncertain.

David Schellenberg, a public health expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was too early to judge if the program had succeeded. "More people might be inadequately treated if this program is closed," he said. "But this approach will not work everywhere."

Explore further: Malaria on way out in third of nations hit: study

More information:
www.lancet.com
www.oxfam.org
www.theglobalfund.org

shares

Related Stories

Malaria on way out in third of nations hit: study

October 17, 2011
Nearly a third of all nations in which malaria is endemic are working to eliminate the disease within a decade, according to a new report released Monday in the United States.

Some WHO-approved malaria drugs fall short: study

July 10, 2012
Up to eight percent of malaria drugs approved by the World Health Organization or other regulators do not contain the right dose and may fuel resistance, researchers said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Novel therapies for multidrug-resistant bacteria

October 23, 2017
During this innovative study published in PLOS One, researchers found that novel classes of compounds, such as metal-complexes, can be used as alternatives to or to supplement traditional antibiotics, which have become ineffective ...

Key discoveries offer significant hope of reversing antibiotic resistance

October 23, 2017
Resistance to antibiotics is becoming increasingly prevalent and threatens to undermine healthcare systems across the globe. Antibiotics including penicillins, cephalosporins and carbapenems are known as β-lactams and are ...

Pneumonia vaccine under development provides 'most comprehensive coverage' to date, alleviates antimicrobial concerns

October 20, 2017
In 2004, pneumonia killed more than 2 million children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. By 2015, the number was less than 1 million.

Newly discovered viral marker could help predict flu severity in infected patients

October 20, 2017
Flu viruses contain defective genetic material that may activate the immune system in infected patients, and new research published in PLOS Pathogens suggests that lower levels of these molecules could increase flu severity.

Migraines may be the brain's way of dealing with oxidative stress

October 19, 2017
A new perspective article highlights a compelling theory about migraine attacks: that they are an integrated mechanism by which the brain protects and repairs itself. Recent insightful findings and potential ways to use them ...

H7N9 influenza is both lethal and transmissible in animal model for flu

October 19, 2017
In 2013, an influenza virus that had never before been detected began circulating among poultry in China. It caused several waves of human infection and in late 2016, the number of people to become sick from the H7N9 virus ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.