$225 Million Program Set Up to Subsidize Malaria Drugs

A partnership backed by nearly 30 governments around the world launched a $225 million program on Friday to subsidize malaria drugs and help combat a disease that kills nearly a million people each year.

The public-private partnership, supported by organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to help healthcare providers buy new, more effective malaria drugs at significantly lower prices.

"The age when the world had effective drugs against infectious diseases but let millions die each year because they couldn't afford them is over," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere in a statement from the partnership.

Nearly 90 percent of malaria victims are children and more than 2,000 children are killed each day, mainly in Africa and Asia, by the mosquito-borne disease, said the partnership, called the Affordable Medicines Facility - Malaria.

Managed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the project aims to make life-saving drugs known as Artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, available to millions of people.

ACTs are currently 10 to 40 times more expensive when sold over-the-counter than the older drugs to which the malaria parasite has become resistant.

"The new initiative will reduce the price of effective malaria drugs so they can drive older, ineffective drugs out of the market," the partnership said.

The World Health Organisation recommends ACTs as first-line treatment for uncomplicated malaria, but they currently only account for one in five treatments and are provided almost entirely by the public sector, the partnership said.

Financial support for the $225-233 million cost of medicines over the first two years of the scheme will be shared by Britain and UNITAID — a French initiative supported by Norway and 27 other nations to finance drugs and diagnostics against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Technical support will come from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, a group of public and private institutions such as the World Bank, UNICEF, the Dutch government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation.

The partnership said several other organisations and governments could also contribute additional funding.

"This partnership is an important part of the global effort to control malaria worldwide," Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund, said. "There is no reason any child should die of malaria anymore."