Chaka Chaka joins fight against malaria

Staff Writers | 12 Apr 2007
Independent Online
Anti-malaria medication must be made affordable and governments need to throw their weight behind efforts to combat the disease, singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka said on Thursday.

"We need to mobilise communities, make medicines more affordable. There's no need for donors to give (money) if governments don't come to the party," she said in her capacity as Unicef goodwill ambassador on malaria.

She was addressing journalists at a Johannesburg conference of African ministers of health, which aims to thrash out a unified strategy for keeping Africa's population healthy.

Several years ago one of her musicians succumbed to malaria after a concert in Gabon, and her 16-year-old son survived a bout of the disease at the age of five after contracting it in Limpopo.

Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, executive director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, said that due to increasing resistance to the popular anti-malarial drug Chloroquin, subsidies were needed to make the more expensive Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT) more affordable.

ACT was produced from a Chinese herb and, because it was a combination therapy, was more effective than the single-molecule Chloroquin, said Coll-Seck.

The prohibitive cost put it beyond the reach of the majority of the 664 million Africans in the 42 countries in which malaria is endemic. About 3 000 people a day die of malaria, the majority of them in Africa.

Close to 75 percent of anti-malaria medicines reached patients via the private sector, where prices of ACTs were up to 20 times higher than those of alternative, but increasingly ineffectual, medicines.

With a global subsidy, cost per course of treatment could be reduced to about US10 cents. The global ACT subsidy would require between $250-million (about R1,7-million) and $300-million (about R2,1-million) per year.

"The global subsidy will allow everybody to have access to this new therapy. We have a lot of donors who are supportive of the idea," said Coll-Seck.

Tanzania's Health Minister, Professor David Mwakyusa, said more had to be done to prevent malaria, instead of controlling it. Africa's health ministers aim to eradicate the disease by 2010.

He said people continued dying from the disease because the right systems were not in place and because not enough attention was paid to educating people about prevention.

Tanzania, with a population of 36 million, had about 18 million malaria cases each year, he said.

Mwakyusa welcomed the introduction of ACT, but expressed concern about the cost. Even with a subsidy, he said it remained out of reach of many of the country's rural inhabitants.

Coll-Seck said Artemisinin was made expensive by the seasonal nature of harvests. It was only grown in a few countries and more expensive to manufacture than a synthetic molecule in a laboratory.

Peter Tynan from Global Development Advisors said ACT cost about US1 to manufacture. Transporting it into remote rural areas added to the cost. - Sapa

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