The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has announced that future grants will require use of artemisinin — a malaria drug that cures 90 per cent of patients in three days — in place of other therapies, to which the malaria parasite has grown resistant. Until now, people suffering from malaria in Africa have had to make do with inferior — but cheaper — drugs.
The policy change, which also instructs African countries to retrospectively modify existing grants, will cost the fund more than US$1 billion in the next five years. And it will mean that national drug policies will need to be changed across Africa. But grants will be used up more quickly on the drug, which costs ten times more than existing treatments.
Outcry from researchers about donor reluctance to provide artemisinin is partly responsible for the move. In 2002, the World Health Organisation recommended the drug as the treatment of choice. But donors such as the United States and the United Kingdom discouraged its use in Africa on the basis of cost, and only Zambia and Zanzibar have adopted it.
Reference: Nature 429, 588 (2004)