Anti-malarial hope for Africa
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CTA. 2006. Anti-malarial hope for Africa. Spore 122. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Since 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been encouraging African countries to use artemisinin-based drugs to treat malaria...
Since 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been encouraging African countries to use artemisinin-based drugs to treat malaria. The substance is derived from Artemisia annua, a medicinal shrub used as an infusion by the Chinese to treat malarial attacks. Demand for this plant has soared since 2005, when an anti-malarial drug based on the shrub went on sale. Coartem s main advantage is that users are less likely to develop a resistance to it, provided that they fully complete the course of treatment. However, keen to avoid the possibility of Plasmodium falciparum the parasite which causes malaria developing a resistance to the drug, WHO is insisting that artemisinin should not be administered on its own, but should be prescribed together with other substances. It is asking pharmaceutical laboratories to refrain from marketing tablets made exclusively from artemisinin, and to use the drug together with other therapies. Given that Africa is the continent worst affected by malaria, it may be advisable to test it there and to expand cultivation of Artemisia rather than importing the plant from Asia. Programmes are under way in a number of countries to produce large quantities of the plant at lower cost. Artemisia cultivation is being developed in Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. Efforts are also being made in Cameroon and Madagascar. Artemisia annua is an annual variety which thrives in warm, temperate climates (mountainous zones), is adapted to various types of soil and is quite resistant to pests and diseases. Using seed supplied by Action for Natural Medicine (ANAMED), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) has developed a hybrid, dubbed A3, which can grow to a height of 3 m and which produces 20 times more artemisinin than wild varieties. In northwestern Mozambique, ICRAF is working together with a medical organisation, Médecins sans frontières (MSF), ANAMED and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to train farmers on how to grow the shrub from cuttings, and to harvest and dry the leaves to make artemisia tea. Cultivation of this crop may well prove a valuable niche market for Africa, given the strong demand for the plant from pharmaceutical laboratories. Websites: ANAMED: www.anamed.org WHO: www.who.int/topics/malaria/en/index.html
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