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Malaria claims a life in Africa every 30 seconds

The Star - Friday April 26 2002 www.star.co.za

Kampala - Scientists meeting for an annual congress have warned that malaria is becoming increasingly difficult to contain.

The Organisation of African Unity said yesterday the mosquito-borne disease was claiming the life of at lease one person in Africa every 30 seconds.

Calling malaria one of the biggest killers in sub-Saharan Africa, the OAU said 2500 children under 5 were dying of the disease daily in a region with 90% of the global incidence of 300 million to 500 million cases.

The OAU figures were released in the Ugandan capital at an annual gathering of medical researchers marking Malaria Day in Africa.

The pan-African organisation agreed with research conducted by the UN World Health Organisation showing that the

Disease becoming hard to contain,scientists warn

main victims of the disease remained women and children living in poverty.

Malaria, it warned, was starting to show its face in areas from where it was previously thought eliminated, mainly because of poor surveillance and the growing resistance of malaria to modern medicines, especially the cheaper anti-malarial, chloroquine.

"Most patients in sub-Saharan African cannot afford new drugs because they are too expensive," said Professor David Bradley, chairman of a special workshop on malaria at the five-day annual African Health Science Congress.

"Research has indicated that in most countries, 70% of primary school children have malaria parasites in their blood," Bradley said.

He said the way forward would be to introduce new drugs, but cautioned that the disease "could also become resistant to even these drugs."

WHO in its Roll Back Malaria campaign, is urging nations to switch to a new type of combination therapy when they find that conventional treatments, like chloroquine no longer work.

The Chinese drug artemisinin was singled out at the workshop as being among those which have handled resistance parasites best, but it remains expensive.

WHO recommended that nations switch as required to artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT), which it has added to its Essential Medicines List.

"WHO has worked with a variety of partners, including the manufacturers, to reduce the prices of ACTs in developing countries," said WHO's director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland.

"It's important that countries which need ACTs are able to access and use them in a sustainable manner."

The Kampala workshop also noted that the use of insecticide-treated bed nets was the most successful way of guarding against malaria, and could lower the incidence of the disease by 34%.

The workshop reported that sub-Saharan Africa would need between R130-billion and R580-billion a year to roll back the malaria pandemic.

Researchers in Kenya, meanwhile, yesterday announced the launch of clinical tests of a trail US vaccine for malaria.

The vaccine, which has already been tested for safety

Clinical trials of new vaccine are under way

On 60 US civilian and military volunteers, was developed by the US's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals.

The meeting was told by the OAU that in the impoverished West African nation of Niger, malaria remains the main killer.

Malaria Day was marked in Niger with radio and television advertisements.

The event was also publicised in neighbouring Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Togo and Benin.

Two years ago to the day, African leaders meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja resolved to try to cut malaria deaths in half by the year 2010, and called on member nations to lift all taxation on treated nets, medicines and other anti-malarials.

Sapa - AFP

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