UK-backed anti-malaria initiative could cost lives

from Oxfam
Published on 29 May 2009
Jon Slater

Promotion of medicine distribution through private shops instead of expanding public health care risks accelerating the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria in developing countries, Oxfam warned today.

The UK Government and World Bank are backing the Affordable Medicine Facility, which encourages the sale of anti-malaria medicines - including artemesinin, the last drug effective against all strains of the disease - via unregulated private shops.

Clinical trials in Cambodia, reported by the BBC today, found evidence of resistance to artemisinin among malaria parasites. Large-scale distribution of malaria drugs through unregulated and unqualified shopkeepers has been blamed.

Anna Marriott: Oxfam health policy adviser, said: "The world has already lost chloroquine, a very effective and cheap drug, because poor people could not buy a full course from ordinary shops. We now risk repeating the same story. That would be a disaster for hundreds of millions of people at risk from malaria.

"By promoting the distribution of anti-malarial drugs through unregulated private shops and despite its good intentions, the UK Government risks unwittingly contributing to a major setback in the fight against the disease.

"Worldwide, a child dies every five seconds from malaria. Countries such as Zambia and Ethiopia have reduced the illness and death toll by scaling up public sector prevention and treatment. The UK Government and World Bank should learn from their success and scale-up effective malaria treatment through good quality healthcare."

Oxfam supports the overall goal of the Affordable Medicine Facility to reduce prices of ant-malarial drugs by 98%. But it is concerned that the distribution of drugs through ordinary shops will lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment, including the sale of incomplete courses of medicines. All of these will increase the likelihood of drug-resistant malaria developing and spreading.

Further information:
Jon Slater
07876 476403/
Oxfam Senior Press Officer: Economic crisis, aid, health and education
+44 (0)1865 472249/
+44 (0)7876 476403