TANZANIA: Anti-malarial drugs too expensive - minister

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The high cost of anti-malarial drugs – up to US$10 per course - has made treatment prohibitive for most poor people in Tanzania, the health minister said.

"Malaria is a disease of the poorest of the poor and such a cost is prohibitively high to the sick rural poor," David Mwakyusa said. "There is a need for concerted effort to bring down the costs as was the case with chloroquine."

The minister was speaking at the launch of the first high quality, dispersible anti-malarial for babies and children, in Dar es Salaam on 17 February. The drug, Coartem Dispersible, is a sweet-tasting Artemisinin combination therapy.

"In Tanzania, close to 90 percent of the population is at risk of acquiring malaria, while the number of clinical cases is about 20 million [with] approximately 60,000 deaths annually," Mwakyusa said.

A similar pattern repeated itself in most African countries south of the Sahara. The continent, he added, carried the heaviest burden of malaria - 90 percent of the world’s 500 million cases and three million deaths.

Coartem Dispersible has been formulated by Medicines for Malaria Venture in collaboration with Novartis. In Tanzania Coartem has been the first-line drug in treatment of malaria.

Officials at the launch said Coartem had often been resisted by children due to its bitter taste, especially when it was crushed and mixed with water before being administered.

"Coartem Dispersible tablets enable parents to give the sweet-tasting malaria medicine to their children more easily and, in the process, ensure they receive full and effective doses," Silvio Gabriel, executive vice-president and head of Malaria Initiative at Novartis, said.

The new drug will be sold at a no-profit price of 37 US cents per treatment for the youngest age group.

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. The parasites multiply in the human liver and then infect red blood cells.

According to the UN World Health Organization, key interventions to control malaria include prompt and effective treatment with Artemisinin-based combination therapies, use of insecticidal nets by people at risk and indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control mosquitoes.