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New Malaria Drug Launched in Latin America, Southeast Asia

A new fixed-dose drug could simplify treatment for millions of people. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A Brazilian drug company and a nonprofit group have developed a new, simplified malaria treatment.

Patients have to take only one tablet a day for three days for some ages, or two tablets a day for three days for other ages.

The medicine combines two existing malaria drugs, artesunate and mefloquine. This combination has been widely used in recent years in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

The Brazilian government will make the new treatment available throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia over this year and next. The fixed-dose drug will be offered to public agencies at a target price of two and a half dollars for the full adult treatment.

Bernard Pecoul is head of the nonprofit group, called the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative. He says the new formulation is safe and fast-acting, and effective for children and adults.

The World Health Organization says artemisinin-based combination treatments are the best way to treat common malaria. Research shows that the simpler the treatment, the more likely people are to complete it. People increase the risk of drug resistance when they do not complete a full treatment.

Researchers tested the new medicine in a one-year study of seventeen thousand patients in the state of Acre in the Brazilian Amazon. Health care resources in the area were also expanded, including early identification of malaria. Health officials say the result was a thirty-six percent drop in cases.

Malaria is caused by a parasite which is passed to humans though mosquito bites. As many as five hundred million infections happen every year. Around sixty percent of the cases, and more than eighty percent of the deaths, happen in Africa south of the Sahara. Africa suffers more than a million deaths, mostly children.

Doctor Pecoul says his organization is supporting a study in Tanzania to see if the new drug could be used successfully in Africa. Currently in Africa, there are two first-line treatments with artesunate and other drugs. He says artesunate and mefloquine could have a use in places like eastern Africa where there are high levels of resistance to several drugs.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative began in two thousand three. It was established by the Pasteur Institute and Doctors Without Borders along with four publicly supported research organizations.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports, go to I’m Steve Ember.