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Chinese cure holds hope for malaria

By Grant Holloway
CNN Sydney

Malarial parasites are carried and spread by mosquitos
Malarial parasites are carried and spread by mosquitos

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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- A breakthrough treatment for malaria based on traditional Chinese medicine holds real potential to reduce the impact of the killer disease, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO says the affordable and effective treatment should be available to fight the disease by about 2006.

More than one million people -- predominantly children under the age of five -- are killed each year by malarial parasites.

Many millions more are incapacitated by recurring bouts of the disease which is caused by parasites which are carried and spread by mosquitos.

Disturbingly, the most deadly form of the disease -- plasmodium falciparum -- is becoming increasingly resistant to existing treatments, particularly in the Thai-Myanmar border region and throughout Africa.

The new treatment is based on the plant qinghaosu, or sweet wormwood, which Chinese physicians have recognized for centuries as having anti-malarial properties.

Another component of the new treatment, pyronaridine, was also first developed in China and has been proven effective in treating malaria in the Hunan and Yunan provinces, according to WHO.

The anti-malarial will be jointly developed by South Korea's Shin Poong Pharmaceuticals, the WHO's Tropical Diseases Research Program and the Swiss-based Medicines for Malaria venture.

One of the advantages of the new drug is there seems to be no pre-existing resistance to either the artesunate (qinghaosu) or pyronaridine components.

Clinical studies

"It is, therefore, expected that this combination will be able to be deployed in areas with both sensitive and multi-drug resistant malaria," WHO said in a statement released Wednesday.

The international health group said another advantage would be that the new medicine could be taken as a single tablet dose and appears to be well tolerated by most patients.

"Being easier to take should mean that more people fully comply with the course of treatment, which is important not only for attaining higher cure rates, but also for delaying the development of drug resistance," WHO said.

Phase one clinical studies of the new drug are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2003.

"It is hoped the medicine will cure acute malaria in all patients in all countries affected by plasmodium falciparum, and that, although the final price is not known, the combination will be affordable to malaria-endemic countries," WHO said.

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