British MPs urge scale-up of $3 bln malaria fight

Staff Writers | 15 Mar 2007

British legislators called on Thursday for more cash and fresh initiatives to fight malaria, including a possible global subsidy scheme to help cut the cost of a new generation of medicines in Africa.

The All-Party Parliamentary Malaria Group -- whose report is being launched simultaneously in Johannesburg by World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz -- said $3 billion a year was needed to help pay for drugs and prevention measures.

"There is now a greater recognition that tackling malaria is a prize the world can grasp, but we need to scale up resources," group chairman Stephen O'Brien said.

Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills at least 1 million people a year and makes 300 million seriously ill. Ninety percent of deaths are in Africa south of the Sahara, mostly among young children.

Many of those lives could be saved with modern artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) drugs, which are far more effective than older treatments like chloroquine, to which resistance is now common.

Western drugmakers Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis have reduced the cost of treatment with ACT medicines to around $1, but that is still about 10 times more than chloroquine.

To help bridge the gap, international donors have started to consider a subsidy scheme for poor countries, under an initiative pioneered by the Netherlands.

Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, executive director of the U.N.-backed Roll Back Malaria Partnership, told reporters in London last week she hoped such a scheme could be introduced as early as next year.

The British parliamentary group said action on drug access had to be matched by increased provision of insecticide-treated nets and indoor spraying, to stop the spread of malaria in the first place.