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HEALTH REPORT - New Malaria Drug Coming to Africa Is Low Cost, Easy to Take

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A boy waits to be tested for malaria in Mozambique in 2000
A boy waits to be tested for malaria in Mozambique in 2000

Malaria infects as many as five hundred million people worldwide each year and kills more than one million of them. The ones who die are mostly children in southern Africa -- another one every thirty seconds, says the World Health Organization.

Malaria drugs have been available for many years. Until now, however, they have been costly for the poor and not very easy to give to children.

But last week a big drug company and an international campaign announced a new antimalarial that is low cost and easy to take. The drug maker Sanofi-Aventis of France is working in partnership with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.

The new product is called A-S-A-Q. It combines what experts say are two of the best drugs for malaria: artesunate and amodiaquine. Officials say ASAQ will soon be available throughout Africa south of the Sahara.

Combinations of drugs are used to treat diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. This is because it is easier for organisms to develop resistance to a single drug.

Current malaria treatments require adults to take as many as eight pills a day. And they often have to divide pills to administer a smaller amount to children.

ASAQ combines the medicines into one daily pill for children and two pills for adults. The medicine is taken for three days. Doctors say the simpler the treatment, the more likely people are to take their medicine.

Sanofi-Aventis has promised to sell ASAQ on a "no profit-no loss" basis to the poorest patients. The full treatment cost for older children and adults will be less than a dollar. The cost for a child under the age of five will be less than half a dollar.

Sanofi-Aventis has also made an unusual decision not to seek patent protections for ASAQ. That means other companies are free to make their own versions to sell at even lower prices.

Five organizations including the French group Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders, established the initiative four years ago. The aim is to work with major drug companies to create low-cost drugs for diseases that are common in poor countries. ASAQ is the first product to be launched.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. Our reports are online with transcripts at www.unsv.com. I'm Barbara Klein.

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