- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

The World Health Organization yesterday called upon pharmaceutical companies to halt the marketing and sale of “single-drug” artemisinin malaria medicines, in an effort to prevent parasites from developing a resistance to the drug.

“So far, no treatment failures due to resistance to artemisinin have been reported, but there is some indication that this risk is emerging,” Dr. Arata Kochi, director of WHO’s malaria department, told reporters at the National Press Club.

WHO put 18 pharmaceutical companies on notice, requesting that they halt the marketing and distribution of monotherapy treatment, or using artemisinin only. WHO advocates artemisinin-based combination therapy.

“If we lose artemisinin, we will no longer have an effective cure for malaria,” Dr. Kochi said.

If malaria parasites develop a resistance to the drug. he said, it would take an estimated 10 years before another effective treatment is available.

WHO estimates that 350 million to 500 million cases of malaria are contracted each year, killing 1 million people, mostly women and children. Sixty percent of malaria cases occur in Africa and 40 percent in Southeast Asia.

“The threat applies to tourists, as well,” said Nick White, a tropical medicine specialist at Oxford University.

WHO reported that some malaria strains already are resistant to chloroquine, sufadoxine-pyrimethamine, mefloquine and other drugs used in monotherapy.

Mr. White said that artemisinin in combination with other drugs is highly effective and available.

“The task now is to implement them,” he said.

Dafra Pharma, based in Belgium, was the first pharmaceutical company to offer artemisinin combination therapy, in the malaria hot spot Sudan.

“As a rule, Dafra has always followed the recommendations of WHO,” said Dr. F. Herwig Jansen, a spokesman for Dafra and a researcher at the University of London.

Dr. Jansen said the implementation of combination therapy as the primary form of treatment takes time. “It is tedious in terms of research and quality control,” he said.

He also said a program would have to be developed to find the appropriate way to phase out monotherapy.

“The decision is not only Dafra’s. We must also work closely with the African governments,” he said.

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