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Drug subsidy boosts campaign against malaria

Children make up nearly 90 per cent of the nearly 900,000 people who die from malaria every year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. Research efforts are yet to yield an effective counterweight to the tropical environment in which malaria thrives. Photo/ANTHONY KAMAU
Children make up nearly 90 per cent of the nearly 900,000 people who die from malaria every year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. Research efforts are yet to yield an effective counterweight to the tropical environment in which malaria thrives. Photo/ANTHONY KAMAU 

Kenyans are set to benefit from a major deal that is likely to cut prices of malaria drugs by more than half, easing the pressure on family medical costs.

The initiative will see over the counter malaria drugs cost the same price as those provided in government hospitals in a move that will help strengthen the anti-malaria campaign.

The new deal signed in Kampala last week involves the Global Fund and six manufacturers of malaria drugs working in a public- private collaboration negotiated by the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

The new drugs, known as “artemisinin-based combination therapies” or ACTs, are about 10 – 40 times more expensive when sold over the counter than the old drugs which have lost their effectiveness because the malaria parasite has developed resistance to them.

As a result of the high cost, many still buy these cheaper, less effective drugs and currently, only one in every five patients treated for malaria has access to ACTs.

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“These agreements bring us closer to the day when all who need malaria medicines will get them at affordable prices,” says Global Fund Executive Director Michel Kazatchkine

The six manufacturers that have signed Master Supply Agreements with the Global Fund are: Ajanta Pharma, Cipla, Guilin, Ipca, Novartis and Sanofi-aventis.

All six pharmaceutical firms meet the Global Fund’s quality criteria for supplying ACTs to first-line buyers.

Other manufacturers may participate in the initiative provided that they meet the quality criteria.

Prior practices

In a departure from prior practices, manufacturers will sell ACTs to first-line buyers from the private sector at the same reduced prices as they sell to those in the public sector.

Under the agreements, private importers will now pay up to 80 per cent less than they did in 2008-2009 for the artemisinin-based combination therapies – ACTs, bringing the factory gate prices down to the same level as public sector buyers.

Currently ACTs make up only 5 per cent of treatments provided through the private sector.

Orders of ACTs at these more affordable prices have already begun, said the Global Fund.

Kenya is within the malaria occurrence belt in Africa, a disease estimated to cause 20 per cent of deaths of children under five years, and thousands of adults every year, according to government statistics.

The Ministry of Medical Services estimates that 25 million Kenyans are at risk of malaria.

The disease accounts for 30-50 per cent of all outpatient attendance and 20 per cent of all admissions in health facilities.

It is an arrangement to subsidise purchases made by first-line buyers, all of whom have signed an undertaking to pass the benefit of low prices down the supply chain, thereby enabling the roughly 60 per cent of malaria patients who obtain treatment in private shops to obtain the most effective treatments at affordable prices.

The Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) negotiated the agreements, which provide the terms and conditions under which the manufacturers would sell eligible ACTs to first-line buyers, and under which the Global Fund would make co-payment to those companies for qualifying purchases by wholesalers.

“No mother should have to worry whether or not she can access the malaria medicines that will save the life of her sick child,” said former US President Bill Clinton.

The manufacturers have also agreed to stop marketing any oral artemisinin monotherapy, which are undesirable because they increase the risk of widespread resistance to the artemisinin in ACTs.

Malaria is a potentially deadly disease that is transmitted through mosquito bites and kills more than 2,000 children every day in Sub-Saharan Africa, said the Global Fund.

Children make up nearly 90 per cent of the nearly 900,000 people who die from malaria every year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.

“Factory-gate global subsidy, combined with supporting activities at country level, will increase access to life-saving antimalarial medicines and also delay the onset of resistance to those medicines,” said the Fund in a statement.

The UK, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNITAID – a initiative for drugs subsidies - are the financiers of a $216 million.

In addition, the Global Fund will spend about $127 million on country-level activities to support the effective implementation the initiative.

When affordable malaria drugs are combined with national campaigns to provide mosquito bed-nets for every family living in areas with malaria, it has led to a dramatic fall in deaths in several countries in Africa.

The combination of bed nets to prevent malaria transmission and drugs that cure malaria quickly has reduced mortality rates by between 50 per cent and 90 per cent in areas where both are widely available.

However, because most people do not have immediate access to public health facilities they buy their drugs at local market stalls and private pharmacies.

The new initiative will benefit Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Uganda and be expanded globally after two years, said the Global Fund.

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