ARUSHA, 9 June (IRIN) - A company involved in the production of artemisinine, an anti-malaria drug, is due to set up extraction plants in Kenya and Tanzania to make the drug easily and cheaply available to patients, an official for the company said on Wednesday.
The factories would be established in East Africa because of the potential in the region for cultivating artemisia-annua, the plant from which the anti-malaria drug is extracted, the managing director of African Artemisia Limited, Geoff Burrell, said at a conference convened by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.
He said a factory was already in operation in Uganda. The one planned for Kenya would be functioning this year while another would be operational in 2006 in the town of Moshi in northern Tanzania.
"This is a major step in the control of malaria," said Dr Allan Schapira, the head of coordination, strategy and policy in WHO's Roll Back Malaria Department.
Millions of people die each year from malaria, which is transmitted through the bite of the anopheles mosquito.
Burrell said that efforts to grow artemisia-annua have been successful in Kenya and Tanzania due to favourable weather conditions.
"We believe that the produce [in East Africa] is of a higher quality than what is cultivated in China and Vietnam," Burrell said.
He added that efforts were under way to cultivate the plant in Uganda this year.
Meanwhile, Novatis, an international pharmaceuticals and consumer health firm, announced it would expand the cultivation of artemisia-annua in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
At least 100 health experts and growers of Artemisia-annua attended the three-day conference, which ended on Wednesday. The aim of the conference was to ensure a reliable supply of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs).
"A dependable supply of ACTs is crucial to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths each year from falciparum malaria, the deadliest form of the disease," Dr Schapira said.
At the end of the conference, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and other participants agreed to create a taskforce to intensify cultivation of the plant in East Africa.
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