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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 13:06 GMT
New malaria drug targets children
A young boy waits his turn to be tested for malaria, in Manhica, Mozambique (file picture)
The disease affects 3,000 children under five in Africa each day
A new, low-cost anti-malarial drug has been launched, aimed especially at the thousands of children in sub-Saharan Africa affected by the disease.

The medicine, launched in Paris, is a combination of two drugs which have proved successful in the past.

Scientists say it is simple to administer, which should make it easy to complete the treatment and overcome the risk of building up resistance.

Malaria kills up to three million in the world each year, mostly in Africa.

More than a million children in Africa die from malaria each year, while the disease affects some 3,000 children under five in Africa each day.

Europe's largest multi-national pharmaceutical company, Sanofi-Aventis, has joined forces with a non-profit organisation, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI), to launch the drug ASAQ.

It will be sold at a very low price and will not be patented, which means other companies could also produce it cheaply.

Killer combination

The new medicine is a "fixed-dose combination" of two drugs - artesunate and amodiaquine - that have proven effective in the past in fighting malaria.

By bringing in two medications that attack different aspects of the parasite you get to kill the parasite invariably
Professor Wilfred Mbacham

Previous combinations of these drugs have meant patients taking up to six tablets a day for a period of five days.

But the course of treatment for the new drug consists of just two pills a day for three days for adults - and importantly, one pill a day for three days for children.

Experts say this should help patients complete their treatment and therefore overcome the risk of the parasite building up resistance.

"By bringing in two medications that attack different aspects of the parasite you get to kill the parasite invariably. So if it's resistant to one, the other one is bound to take the parasite out of existence," said Professor Wilfred Mbacham, a malaria expert for the national malaria control programme in Cameroon.

"Therefore this new fixed combination is about the right way to go, especially by reason of the fact that people will take them to completion and will be able to eliminate these resistant forms of parasite," he told the BBC World Service's Focus on Africa programme.

Free drug?

But some argue it should be given out for free in African countries.

Professor Mbacham disagrees.

"The argument is that maybe it's still not affordable by Africans but I think most Africans are rising up to the challenge. We want to be able to pay for the medications ourselves. Otherwise we become quite suspicious and worry why medication is given for free and it may not fly with the population very well."

The new medicine should be available for delivery later this year.

But health experts warn, given the speed with which resistance to malaria drugs has spread across Africa, it could end up being a short-term solution, says the BBC's Mike Lanchin.


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