New drug offers hope in fight against malaria

Sunday November 16 2014

A woman is tested for malaria during a Kemri open day on December 3, 2013. FILE PHOTO

A woman is tested for malaria during a Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) open day. Kenya is now home to a centre for diagnosing infectious diseases in East and Central Africa. FILE PHOTO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

FRANCIS MUREITHI
By FRANCIS MUREITHI
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The fight against malaria, especially in sub-Sahara Africa, has received a boost following the development of a new drug.

According to the data from the Ministry of Health, malaria is estimated to cause 20 per cent of all deaths in children under five in Kenya. 

The new drug, Artesunate-Mefloquine fixed dose combination (ASMQ FDC), was developed by Geneva-based Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and the Brazilian government.

In an exclusive interview with Nation.co.ke, DNDi Executive Director Dr Benard Pecoul described the development of ASMQ FDC as a big breakthrough in the fight against malaria in children specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

"The ASMQ fixed dose combination has proven its importance and considering that a child dies every minute in Sub-Saharan Africa from malaria, there is now hope for millions of children in Africa,” Dr Pecoul said in a telephone interview from his Geneva office. 

He said there was no time to waste and urged the governments in affected countries to take up this additional treatment option to ensure their population have access to this life-saving drug.

At the same time Dr Pecoul said that at least 10 African researchers were involved in the study including two Kenyan doctors — Dr Benard Ogutu from Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Kisumu and Dr Kevin Omondi Onyango from Centre for Clinical Research, Kemri in Nairobi. 

Dr Pecoul revealed that the Sh450 million funding for this study was provided to DNDi by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and multiple donors from European Union while clinical investigators of the study were from Burkina Faso, Kenya and Tanzania. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the drug which can now be available to African children. 

WHO estimates that in 2012 there were 207 million cases of malaria and that 627,000 deaths were attributed to the disease, mostly in Africa. 

Children continue to be the worst affected accounting for 77 per cent of all deaths with an estimated 462,000 deaths in African children under the age five in 2012. 

WILL BE AFFORDABLE

According to Dr Pecoul, the drug is registered in Tanzania and Niger. 

Interestingly, Kenya which provided some of the clinical investigators is among the 13 countries in Africa who are still reviewing the regulatory mechanism in order to register the drug which was launched on November 4 in New Orleans at the 63rd annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASMTH). 

"It is now up to the countries in Africa to ensure the drug is included in their national guidelines, procured and distributed," said Dr Pecoul. 

He said the cost of drug will be affordable as an Indian company, Cipla, would also be manufacturing it. 

The government is currently implementing a 10 year Kenya National Malaria Strategy (KNMS) 2009 -2017 at a cost of Sh1.6 billion.

So far the government has spent more than Sh1billion. 

The strategy aims at reducing morbidity and mortality associated with malaria by 30 per cent by 2017. 

Malaria in Kenya at a glance:

  • 25 million out of a population of 34 million Kenyans are at risk of malaria.
  • It accounts for 30-50 per cent of all out-patient attendance and 20 per cent of all admission to health facilities.
  • An estimated 170million working days are lost to the disease each year.
  • Malaria is also estimated to cause 20 per cent of all deaths in children under five.
  • The most vulnerable  group to malaria infections are pregnant women and children under five.