WHO: Chinese Treatments Offer Best Hope for Malaria Cure

 November 22, 2001

Agence France-Press

Manila - The best hope for a cure to malaria is emerging in China, which is developing highly effective medicines to combat the deadly disease, the World Health Organization said last week. 

The new treatments combine the derivative of a traditional herb called qing hao-su or artemisinin, an extremely powerful anti- malarial agent, with modern synthetic drugs, the Manila-based WHO regional office said. 

China was developing at least four kinds of treatment, which could save thousands of lives every day, the WHOs Western Pacific Regional Director Shigeru Omi declared in a statement. 

This is why were trying to speed up the process, he said, citing international support for the development of treatments, particularly in the field of clinical trials, assessment of safety and production quality. 

The WHO said the combination of the herb and modern drugs have a cure rate of more than 95 percent against malaria, which kills about 1 million people annually. 

Malaria affects some 300 million people a year. It accounts for one in five deaths of children under 5 in Africa, the WHO said. 

The new therapies stood out from the many other anti-malarial treatments because they only needed to be taken for three days, compared to weeklong treatments for other drugs, it said. 

They also use compounds that the malaria parasite had yet to develop resistance to and were likely to be cheap enough for the poor to afford. One of the treatments is already available on the market, Allan Schapira, the WHOs Western Pacific Regional Adviser in Malaria said. 

Another therapy, which is likely to be less costly, may be on the market within two years. 

China rediscovered artemisinin about 25 years ago. Historical records show that it had long been used to treat fever and probably malaria. 

According to the WHO, it can kill 99 percent of malaria parasites within 48 hours. But to cure infections, it has to be taken for a week. Many people, however, stop treatment after two days. 

They feel better and want to save on the drugs, Schapira said. But they then become ill again after a few weeks. 

Experts fear this could also lead to the malaria parasite becoming resistant to artemisinin. Patients failure to see out medication courses for tuberculosis has led to drug-resistant strains of TB.

The malaria parasites growing resistance to many drugs, including chloroquine, one of the cheapest drugs available, has been a major setback to malaria control. 

Drug-resistance is a severe problem in Southeast Asia and South America, particularly in Thailand, Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Brazil. 

WHO officials said that for the past decade, scientists in China have been researching combinations of anti-malarial drugs to counteract the problem. 

Taking two or more drugs together improves efficacy, reduces the duration of treatment and is likely to delay the parasites drug resistance, they said.