Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wrong drugs pull back malaria war

By GATONYE GATHURA and SAMMY CHEBOI

The government is concerned about the continued use of wrong malaria drugs in the market, including in its own health facilities.

Only a third of people seeking malaria treatment are getting the recommended medicine and some are even being treated with chloroquine, which was phased out almost 10 years ago.

The first ever comprehensive malaria study in Kenya, the 2007 Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey (KMIS), which was launched on Tuesday, revealed that only 29 per cent of patients received the recommended Artemesinin Combination Therapy (ACT).

Less effective

Aside from chloroquine, patients are being treated with less effective, non-recommended drugs called Sulphadoxine Pyrethamine or SPs.

“It is unfortunate that these medicines are in high circulation in the drug chain,” said Dr Elizabeth Juma, the head of the Division for Malaria Control in the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

More alarming were findings that prescription only medicines were being sold over the counter. The report urged the Pharmacy and Poisons Board to strictly enforce laws on medicines.

The document intended to guide government policy, makes some radical proposals in the management of malaria.

In the past, patients in endemic areas showing fever symptoms have been assumed to be suffering from malaria and consequently treated for the disease.

Now, the report recommends that all children below five years, who visit health facilities with a fever, be tested and treated according to the results.

This is bound to raise debate given that most health clinics do not have the facilities and equipment to undertake such tests.

Drastic change

“For a long time, fever has been confused for malaria. The medical fraternity must lead by using evidence to administer treatment and overcome parasite resistance,” said Dr Willis Akhwale, head of Department of Disease Prevention and Control.

The report, launched by the director-general of Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Dr Anthony Kilele, at a Nairobi hotel, further recommends a drastic change in the provision of bed nets.

While the current policy is to provide nets to vulnerable groups, including children and pregnant women, the report recommends that this be changed to universal coverage.

In line with this strategy, which should be achieved by next year, every household should have at least two bed nets.

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