In Kenya, health experts call for change of strategies

Cosmas Butunyi | 22 Feb 2010
The East African
Jolted by reports of poor-quality anti-malaria drugs circulating in parts of eastern Africa, Kenyan health experts are calling for a change of strategy in the fight against malaria.

They are proposing a raft of measures, ranging from the enhancement of preventive efforts and the eradication of the malaria-causing organisms to stiffer punishment for people who produce and distribute poor-quality drugs.

This call comes in response to recent World Health Organisation research — conducted in 10 African countries — which revealed that up to 40 per cent of drugs in some countries, including neighbouring Uganda, are of poor quality.

Officials are concerned about the influx of low-quality malaria drugs, arguing that their continued use can lower the body's ability to benefit from proper treatment.

Kenya is one of the countries involved in the study, but its results are yet to be released.

Health authorities fear equally negative results, arguing that the country's health care system is similar to those of its neighbours.

But in reaction to the bad news, Kenyan health experts have proposed strategies to tackle a potential worst-case scenario.

The move is largely driven by the fact that there is no ready substitute for Artemisinin-based drugs, currently the most effective treatment.

Dr Andrew Githeko, a senior researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, who is involved in malaria studies, said the WHO research focus should shift from treating malaria to controlling the mosquito population.

This would reduce the incidence of the disease, hence the need for more dependable drugs to stop the development of resistance.

Dr Githeko said that when poor-quality drugs are used, the malaria parasite is only suppressed and not destroyed, which gradually makes it resistant to drugs.

"We could have multiple cases of the disease in one person, which would result in ill-health and wastage of money on drugs," he added.

Dr Ojwang' Lusi, the director of medical services of Nyanza province — a malaria-prone area in Kenya — said drugs with low levels of active ingredients and impurities are a serious problem.

According to the UN health agency's report, some drugs were found to have impurities and low levels of the active ingredients.